Sunday, 4 September 2016

Get to know PhD candidate Berhan Haile

Berhan Ayele Haile is a PhD candidate from Ethopia based at the Burnet Institute, in the Centre for Biomedical Research. His PhD has involved helping to develop new methods of testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that can be used in resource-limited settings.


Q:
Summarise your thesis in two or three sentences.

A:
My PhD project was laboratory-based, carried out in the Anderson Diagnostics Development Laboratory at the Burnet Institute, under the supervision of Assistant Professor David Anderson and Dr Julian Elliott. My thesis focused mainly on development of a paper-based filter (centrifugeless) method of plasma separation and collection intended to be used in dried form for HIV viral load testing at central laboratories in resource-limited settings.

A prospective evaluation study conducted on patients with HIV from the Alfred Hospital HIV clinic showed the method’s efficiency as specimen type to accurately diagnose virological failure at the current World Health Organisation (WHO) cut-off (1000 copy/ml).

Q:
What were you doing before you started your PhD and where?

A:
Before I joined Monash University to undertake my PhD, I worked for five years as research associate in Ethiopia, mainly with responsibility of coordinating a clinical trial study on strategies to eliminate ocular trachoma. This study was conducted jointly by The Carter Center and Francis I. Proctor Foundation (University of California) in collaboration with The Ethiopian Ministry of Health.

Q:
Do you have any idea of what you'd like to do after finishing your PhD?

A: After I finish I would like to develop my career as a researcher by building on the knowledge and skills I acquired during my PhD study. If I get the opportunity, I am interested in studying the utility of the plasma separation and collection method we’ve developed for various purposes. The great advantage of this method is that it separates red blood cells, white blood cells (PBMCs) and plasma separately within five minutes.

My interest is to investigate the potential utility of these separate components as alternative sample types for different analyses that require specific blood component rather than whole blood. So that its application can also be expanded for other purposes such as for epidemiological surveys, treatment or vaccination response monitoring and various biological and chemical analyses.

Q:
What's been the greatest challenge while undertaking your PhD and how did you overcome it?

A:
My main challenge during my PhD study was the delay in starting my initial project to develop CD4 (a glycoprotein) point-of-care test for tuberculosis/HIV co-infected patients who need a different cut-off to initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) than HIV mono-infected patients.

The project was not to develop a new test but to modify the already developed VISITECT CD4 tests by Burnet Institute. The modification to be made was designed and planned on the final, ready-for-use version of the VISITECT CD4 test. However, due to delays of the final version of the test because of technical issues, I was not able to embark on my project as planned.

Thankfully my supervisors managed to expand my project and work on a related area while the initial one was pending due to troubleshooting work. I was able to manage this, though the delay eventually affected the timely submission of my thesis.

Q:
How did you hear about SPHPM and why did you choose to study with us?

A:
I came across with SPHPM when I began to browse the internet for overseas study opportunities. After finding the Monash website and the scholarship opportunities posted and I chose SPHPM as it was the school that offers the kind of study I was looking for.

Q:
Choose three words to describe SPHPM.

A:
Welcoming, well-organised and inspirational.

Q:
What do you like doing outside of your office hours?

A:
Out of my office hours I usually spend my time with my two lovely daughters mainly helping them in dealing with their homework and going out to some places where they want to have fun, mostly at weekends. I also assist my wife in everything I can do including cooking.

Q: What's your favourite local place near the Alfred?

A: I enjoy having late coffee and sometimes a casual lunch at cafes in and around the Alfred when there is the call.

Q:
How far into your PhD are you?

A:
I have submitted my thesis and am currently waiting for the result.

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