UH Med Now
JABSOM AIDS Researcher Among RCUH Employees of the Year
For nearly three decades, Cris Milne has been a frontline warrior in the fight against HIV. “We’ve battled HIV down quite a bit. I think the progress that’s been made in HIV care has been revolutionary,” Milne said.
The Research Corporation of the University of Hawaiʻi (RCUH) awarded Milne, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), “Researcher/Project Manager of the Year”, for her decades of work at the Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS.
The Center provides clinical care and conducts research. Milne does both, and she’s served the people of Hawaiʻi since she started in 1995. During this time, Milne has seen how the fight against HIV has evolved.
“When I started working here, we had people who were passing away from HIV, so it’s been wonderful to see that progression and the care evolve to the point where we rarely have people die of HIV.”
In her role at the Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS, Milne conducts trials. She says the one that meant the most was the Womenʻs Interagency HIV study (WIHS).
“There was a lot of fear in the 1990s. Women wanted to know if they could still have babies or have an active life if they had HIV. Those were the questions people had when HIV first came out,” Milne recalls. “This trial looked at the things women needed. We learned a lot about how HIV affected women during that time. There was a lot of stigma toward men and women with HIV, and I think that has gotten much better.”
The stigma around HIV faded as more people learned about the virus and as more patients got treatment. Milne played a crucial role in developing the best treatments.
“We had to find the best regimen for someone to go on to counteract their HIV,” she said. “The early medications had a lot of side effects so we would have to work with the patient to find something they could tolerate. The most exciting thing now is to have the ability for someone to take one medication that keeps the HIV at bay.”
Dr. Mariana Gerschenson, Associate Dean for Research and Professor, has worked with Ms. Milne and they published three peer-reviewed publications together. Dr. Gerschenson said, “Cris Milne was part of our collaborative team and contributed to our understanding of HIV lipoatrophy (fat loss) and metabolic disease in people living with HIV. Cris is a caring and compassionate nurse who helped with our clinical studies.”
Like many HIV research programs throughout the U.S., JABSOMʻs Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS pivoted to COVID research during the pandemic.
“We were active at the beginning of COVID, figuring out how to protect people and how to get vaccine research going,” Milne said.
Today, Milne conducts COVID and HIV trials and research.
“My role is integral to get things off the ground, figure out what needs to happen to have a study occur,” she says.
Milne says each trial and study is tailored to the people of Hawaiʻi.
While Milne and her team have battled for years to find a cure for HIV, she recognizes more work needs to be done. They’re currently working on a large COVID recovery study examining treatment options and why some people get reinfected more than others.
HIV has not taken a backseat, either. “We have done a lot of preliminary cure research, and we will continue to work on that,” she said.
The RCUH honor was a culmination of her years of work, but Milne says it was a true team effort.
“It made me feel good and happy that people are recognizing the hard work we’ve been doing at the Hawaiʻi Center of AIDS. Everything is a team in our program. We work very closely. We interchange our duties. We have a wonderful and dedicated nursing staff.”
Matthew Campbell, Director of Communications