Dr. Alice Zhabokritsky embarked on her CTN fellowship in the summer of 2021 upon completion of her infectious diseases residency at the University of Toronto.  

Driven by her passion for improving the lives of people living with HIV, Dr. Zhabokritsky is investigating the concept of healthy aging as the eldest cohort of people living with HIV become the first generation to navigate the challenges of aging with the virus. Her research project, titled “Evaluation of healthy aging among people living with HIV in Canada through multidimensional domains of health,” aims to identify factors that contribute to healthy aging and develop interventions to enhance the health and well-being of those aging with HIV. 

What set her off on this career path?

Dr. Zhabokritsky’s interest in HIV research was sparked during her undergraduate course in virology. Intrigued by the complexities of the virus and the challenges faced by people living with HIV, she decided to pursue graduate training in molecular biology, studying a plant-derived antiviral protein with activity against HIV.  

“Although not that long ago, HIV treatment options looked very different during my undergraduate training than they do today,” Dr. Zhabokritsky explained. “I was set on finding a new way of targeting the virus.”  

However, during her medical training, she realized that her true calling lay in improving the lives of people living with HIV and addressing the barriers they face in their care.  

I started to appreciate the complexities people living with HIV face on a daily basis and that their antiretroviral therapy was only a part of it,” she said. 

Witnessing the challenges of adherence, comorbidities, and differences in quality of life despite the new availability of effective treatments, Dr. Zhabokritsky recognized the need for further research. 

“I realized that although I will not be a molecular biologist discovering the next best treatment for HIV, I would dedicate my time to improving the lives of people living with HIV and help address barriers they face in their care,” Dr. Zhabokritsky shared, reflecting on her career choices. 

Dr. Zhabokritsky’s interest in aging with HIV was further ignited during her infectious diseases residency when she had the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Sharon Walmsley, the National Co-Director of the CTN. In the Immunodeficiency Clinic at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Zhabokritsky met long-standing patients of Dr. Walmsley, people who had been living with HIV for over 30 years. Hearing their concerns about aging and the uncertainties they faced motivated Dr. Zhabokritsky.  

“Patients shared their uncertainty about the future and especially how they will be able to maintain their independence and quality of life into older age,” Dr. Zhabokritsky acknowledged. “These experiences sparked my interest in studying HIV and aging and finding ways to address the complex needs of this population.”  

Where will she start?

“My CTN project is embedded in the CHANGE HIV cohort study (CTN 314) — the first Canadian cohort of people living with HIV who are 65 or older,” Dr. Zhabokritsky explained. “I am working on validating a measurement tool used in this study, called the Healthy Aging Score. The goal is to have a way of distinguishing individuals who are aging well and those who are not, so that we can identify factors that influence healthy aging.” 

Reflecting on her future and the impact of her research, Dr. Zhabokritsky shared, “As I complete my CTN postdoctoral fellowship, I will be transitioning into a clinician–investigator role with the University Health Network at the University of Toronto. I hope that my ongoing work with the CHANGE HIV study will inform development of interventions, programs, and policies to help people aging with HIV to achieve, maintain, or enhance their health and wellbeing.”  

As she completes the final year of her fellowship, we wish Dr. Zhabokritsky all the best as her research paves the way for a better understanding of the needs of people living with HIV and ultimately enhancing their quality of life as they age.  

To stay up to date on Dr. Zhabokritsky’s work, visit PubMed for a listing of recent publications including the CTN Fellowship–supported publication, ‘Correlates of Healthy Aging in Geriatric HIV (CHANGE HIV)—CTN 314’. You can also watch her presentation about her fellowship at CAHR 2023. 

Written By:

Hannah Mold