Zambia colleagues host the 3rd VITALITY Investigators Meeting
Investigator meetings offer an opportunity for our three trial sites to network, reflect and revaluate, and to be part of the trial community. These meetings provide a forum to update colleagues, to share good practice or troubleshoot issues with other sites and institutional partners.
In March, this year’s three-day Investigator meeting was hosted by colleagues in Lusaka, giving some people the opportunity to meet each other for the first time and to see first-hand the realities of the trial in action. Work package leads, MSc and PhD students and trial partners travelled to Zambia to present on baseline data compiled thus far. In addition, interesting ideas were shared and important collaborations were formed. The meeting also presented an opportunity for both the investigators and students to interact and learn from one another.
Here, Dan Hameiri Bowen (University of Oxford) gives us his account of those three highly productive days providing insights into the business and the inclusivity, of this unique trial. We hope you enjoy reading this more personal account which, we think, demonstrates the strong team spirit and motivation driving the success of this unique project.
"Prior to the meeting, all the Investigator meeting delegates were treated to a tour of the VITALITY study sites. The tour began by meeting the team at the University Teaching Hospital (Emily, Jessie, Casandra and Hellen), who expertly explained the VITALITY participant process. We also met the wonderful radiology team (Soka, Thomas, Nanna, and Veronica) who talked us through their roles. After, we took a short drive to Chawama for a guided tour the site and to learn from Mubanga of the inspiring work that goes on at the ART department. After, we went to Kalingalinga to meet Brighton, who provided a similarly impressive tour. In the afternoon, returning to the University Teaching Hospital, Mizinga led a tour of the laboratory where we witnessed the process involved in collecting samples for VITALITY.”
Day one of the VITALITY Investigators meeting was introduced by Lackson Kasonga, P.I., who introduced the study aims and objectives, and thanked everyone for their hard work in overcoming the challenge of the pandemic to achieve such great progress to date.
We began with a summary of the first work package (trial design and conduct) by both the Zambian and Zimbabwean teams. After a short break (filled with discussions and ideas), Vicky (Simms) presented the latest on data analysis and management. Enrolment flow diagrams and the characteristics of the recruited participants were shared provoking an interesting discussion over the differences in outdoor exposure between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Vicky also presented data on the trial outcomes and the technicalities behind this.
Katharina (Kranzer), took us through Communication and Dissemination, covering the wide spectrum of communication methods deployed by the project in reaching a wide range of varied stakeholders (dissemination). Reminding the group of VITALITY’s obligations to EDCTP targets, Katharina stressed the importance of everyone participating in communications and dissemination, such as providing content, data and information to the comms officer. We are doing well with our newsletter and social media but we are are always happy to welcome more interested colleagues to our newsfeed! Katharina also reminded us about publications and conference participation.
Celia (Gregson) then presented on the mechanistic understanding of bone metabolism In a room filled with people with varying interests, experience and professions, Celia was not only able to explain all the complicated measurements calculated for VITALITY but was able to get everyone excited about the importance of the questions being addressed. With this fresh in the mind, we later enjoyed dinner together, which was an excellent opportunity to feel closer and more connected as the “VITALITY family”.
The second day kicked off with a buoyant mood as Katherina quickly reminded us of the Day 1 discussions before the sessions commenced. The morning session included talks by the laboratory scientists (Rowland Jones and Schaible groups). We were treated to several engaging talks by both group leads and post-docs with presenters doing an impressive job presenting complicated concepts in an accessible way. It was clear by the end of this session that the laboratory sub-studies will greatly enrich the VITALITY trial. One of the best features of this morning session were the discussions provoked by each talk.
By lunch time, everyone was deep into project discussions, spawning new ideas and collaborative projects that will grow over the coming years. After a highly animated lunch we moved on to an update on capacity and strengthening activities. As an important work package that intersects all others, it was exciting to see the ongoing work, but it was also an opportunity to highlight areas where we could all do more.
The final session of the day was the most exciting of the three days. In this session we had a series of exceptional talks by the VITALITY PhD students. The thoughtfulness, quality and variety of work that was on show was truly exceptional. There are a wealth of great VITALITY PhDs brewing and when we look back in a decade’s time, I’m sure we will have several VITALITY-born research leaders.
Tafadzwa kicked off the session with a thoughtful presentation on his planned work investigating bone mechanistic pathways. The high standard of presentation replicated by Karen, who followed with an equally fascinating talk on her whole blood studies. Nyasha raised the bar even higher with her PhD project investigating the important issue of adherence to treatment using a Wisepill device. Cynthia was up next and explained her studies investigating bone architecture in children living with HIV. Lisha Jeena then impressed us all with her study looking at inflammation in VITALITY participants. Emily picked up on the immune response theme in her talk too, which also covered the important consideration of host-genetics, and how it might influence vitamin D metabolism. To end a long and information-filled day, Tadious and Mizinga, both registered LHSTM MSc students, presented their work. Both showed exceptional passion for their projects, which will certainly develop into world-class MSc degrees.
The focused environment allowed all students the opportunity to refine and develop their studies. Excellent questioning led to long and insightful discussions that made the three-hour session fly by. Notes were hastily taken by all students and followed up over dinner, coffee breaks and emails in the following days. I think almost everyone would agree this was the standout session of the meeting.
The final day began with the data analysis plan. The epidemiological experience in the room was clear, with complicated considerations being expertly discussed among the VITALITY group. The research diversity was also clear, with many different perspectives and considerations contributing to the discussions. The meeting ended with break-out sessions where new ideas, logistics and future plans were debated in focused groups. The fruits of these discussions will be realised in the coming years and served to highlight the innate advantage of meeting in person where the architecture for these serendipitous and important connections is present.
Overall, the VITALITY Investigator meeting was a wonderful success. After being unable to meet for so long, being able to put names to email addresses left us all raring to go and get on with delivering on the VITALITY objectives. After this meeting, we are all closer, more engaged, and appreciative of the enormous work that everyone is doing to make this trial work. We must also thank everyone who facilitated this meeting (especially Azie!) and thank our Zambian colleagues who made us feel so welcome in Zambia.