Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a double stranded RNA virus that is transmitted via the exchange of body fluids from an infected individual to an uninfected individual. HIV targets immune cells within the body and if left untreated, infection can result in the development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and death. HIV infection is a serious health issue, affecting over 30 million people worldwide and millions more each year. While highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has offered the opportunity for infected individuals to achieve relatively normal life expectancies, there is as yet no cure. Further, treatment is expensive, must be adhered to for the remainder of the infected individual’s life, may be accompanied by significant side effects, and is not universally available in all regions of the world. Thus, the search for a cure for HIV infection remains a top priority of health organizations worldwide.
Curing HIV infection has been a difficult challenge primarily due to the persistence of viral reservoirs that remain in the body even during uninterrupted, long-term antiretroviral therapy. These reservoirs exist as HIV genomes (proviruses) that integrate into the cellular DNA of extremely long-lived immune cells known as T cells. Within these cells, the provirus can remain silent and undetectable for decades in a state known as viral latency. During this time, the provirus enjoys sanctuary from drug therapy and from the host immune system. If therapy is interrupted at any point, the provirus can reactivate, resulting in viral rebound within the body. Without intervention, increased viral loads can lead to depletion of host T cells, impairment of the immune system, progression to AIDS, and ultimately death.
Our research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind HIV persistence and translating cutting edge knowledge and novel therapeutics from the bench to the clinic. Our team includes scientists and clinicians all harnessing their diverse experiences and expertise to achieve a better understanding of HIV latency and address many of the remaining roadblocks to a cure. Within our own lab and in collaboration with laboratories throughout the country, including the Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE), we are working to discover new approaches to help treat – and one day cure – HIV infection.