Fordham University HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI) Fellow Dr. Arunansu Talukdar is not just conducting research on HIV prevention – as a physician, he is practicing it as well.
Talukdar is a member of the fourth cohort of RETI fellows, and was the 2014 recipient of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education / Santander Universities International Scholarship, which covers the cost of his travel to Fordham for two consecutive summer training institutes, as well as the cost of his mentored research project (MRP). His MRP examines voluntariness of consent to research involving women participating at a clinic-based HIV intervention trial in Kolkata, India.
In his MRP, Talukdar aims to assess the voluntariness of consent to research for women in a clinic-based research project; identify correlates of voluntariness; and examine whether any anticipated threats/fears/pressures influence the decision of whether to participate in the research project.
Typically, the informed consent process assumes that an participant involved makes the decision of whether or not to take part in a research project. However, in many cultures, important decisions are made by other family or community members, or are made collectively. While these decision-making processes reflect community norms, they are in direct conflict with the autonomy of potential research participants that is embedded in the informed consent process. Dr. Lloyd Goldsamt of New York University is mentoring Talukdar’s project.
Both a practicing physician and an associate professor of medicine, Talukdar has experience in both academic and clinical settings. After years of working as a physician and caring for patients with AIDS, he obtained a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the School of Public Health at the University of California Los Angeles, focusing on sexual risk behavior and the STI/HIV crisis among India’s homeless population.
He completed a World Health Organization (WHO) Fellowship in 2011 and later published articles on coping strategies and quality of life among HIV-positive individuals. After joining the Medical College Kolkata, Talukdar conducted a course on research methodology in STI/HIV in collaboration with Washington University. He is now mentoring five medical students who are conducting research on HIV prevention and treatment.
At his home institution of the Medical College Kolkata, Talukdar is one of 9 members of the Scientific Advisory Committee, which reviews research proposals for any pharmaceutical company-sponsored clinical drug trials. He is now also a member of the Institutional Ethics Committee for clinical research on human subjects at the Post Graduate Medical College in Kolkata.
On January 5, 2015, Talukdar was nominated by the Indian parliament to sit on the Committee of Experts for New Drug Approval, which was convened by the Drug Controller General of India, the Indian Ministry of Health, and the Government of India. This committee will provide approval for drug trials and the marketing of domestic and imported drugs in India. Talukdar reviews analgesic, rheumatologic drugs and biological compounds. The committee meets monthly in Delhi to review all proposals submitted by national and international pharmaceutical companies.
Additionally, the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology has recently introduced an awareness program for ethics committee members and clinical investigators on current regulatory requirements in clinical research throughout the country. A two-day awareness program was organized at the end of May, and Talukdar served as a resource at this program. Approximately 75 people attended the workshop, and he spoke mainly on the consent process.
According to Talukdar, some of the most prominent research ethics issues in India are knowledge of current regulatory guidelines among investigators and ethics committee members, therapeutic misconception among research participants, voluntariness in research participation, and, the focus of his MRP, obtaining consent from community leaders or a woman’s husband for her participation in research.
“My MRP gave me an opportunity to enhance my knowledge on ethics in clinical research,” Talukdar explained. “This in turn helps me to be a more effective and efficient doctor. I am now more critical on ethical issues during the research proposal approval process, and am now able to teach my students about ethical issues.”