Susan Swindells, M.B.B.S., has spent a career fighting HIV and AIDS, both as a researcher and a clinician.
"I do less patient care now," she said. "But if I didn't do any patient care, I'd rapidly become irrelevant and outdated. I think to be a good clinical researcher you do have to take care of patients at some level."
And Dr. Swindells, a professor in the UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases, is such a good clinical researcher that she will be honored today as UNMC's 14th Scientist Laureate, the highest honor UNMC bestows on its researchers.
A 2012 UNMC Distinguished Scientist honoree, Dr. Swindells has been involved in HIV research and care since 1984. She has travelled to countries such as South Africa, India, Brazil, Peru, Haiti and Thailand, and she has research collaborators around the world. Her research has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and she was co-investigator on a study that showed that the use of a combination of antiretroviral drugs by those with HIV could stop the transmission of the disease to others in 96 percent of cases - a study that the journal Science called "the scientific breakthrough of 2011." She also was responsible for the development of UNMC's multidisciplinary HIV clinic, serving as its medical director until last year.
She said she's watched as attitudes toward HIV and AIDS slowly shifted over the course of her career.
"Initially, a lot of providers didn't want to take care of people," she said. "But it somehow seemed like the right thing to do, to me. In retrospect, I'm quite proud of that."
The disease is still heavily stigmatized, she said.
"When people come to our clinic, and they've been diagnosed, they often feel a lot of shame, and they're afraid to tell their family and loved ones," she said. "It's a virus, it's not a punishment from God, but people do still feel the burden of that stigma, which is sad."
Still, since Dr. Swindells started working in HIV research and treatment, attitudes have improved.
"We see a lot of the other (attitude), where there's support and love and understanding, all the things you'd like to see, there's a lot of that too."
Dr. Swindells describes clinical research as trying to find a treatment (in her case, for people with both HIV and tuberculosis) that is better than what is currently available.
"Ideally, it would be curative, but if not curative, then treatments that will control the disease and are easy on the patient in terms of side effects, pill burden - and it would be nice if they weren't expensive."
On that front, she said, HIV treatment has made huge strides in the past three-plus decades.
"People can take one tablet a day that has hardly any side effects, and it works incredibly well," she said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't cure anybody."
Since Dr. Swindells arrived at UNMC in 1991 -- recruited by James Armitage, M.D., former chair of the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine -- she said she has had tremendous institutional support and strong clinical care and research teams.
"I have a wonderful team here, and a lot of wonderful collaborators that I work with in other countries, too," she said. "There are a lot of very dedicated people in my field that I'm humbled and honored to work with."
Sue, I continue to follow your extraordinary career. Congratulations on this clearly well deserved award. Sarah Ransome (Park)
Congratulations. Very deserving honor for all your hard work.
A role model!!!
Congratulations, so very grateful that you are at UNMC. Thank you for your tireless efforts.
Congratulations Sue! Past due, so it's nice to see you get this recognition. I feel honored to have had you as a colleague these few short years. Ha! Cheers, Sam.
Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition!
Congratulations Dr. Swindells!
Congratulations Dr. Swindells. You've earned it. Much respect.
Warmest congratulations on your achievement Dr. Swindells!
Department of Internal Medicine is very proud of you! Congratulations!
Congratulations Dr. Swindells!
Congrats Dr. Swindells!! What a great honor -- doesn't get better than Scientist Laureate!
Congrats! Very well deserved.
Very, very much deserved and long overdue. Congratulations, Sue!!
CONGRATULATIONS!! Well deserved! Carol Russell