International Experts, Student Research Featured at World AIDS Day Symposium

Dec. 9, 2013

In honor of World AIDS Day, celebrated on December 1, 2013, the UR Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) hosted a scientific symposium featuring talks from prestigious experts in the AIDS community and research posters from undergraduate and graduate students and post doctoral associates training at UR.

Red AIDS ribbonA keynote presentation by Steve Deeks, M.D., professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, highlighted the accelerated aging process seen in individuals with HIV. Even when the virus is under control, thanks to extremely effective antiretroviral therapies, patients experience more heart disease, kidney, liver and cognitive problems and cancer at an earlier age than non-infected individuals. Deeks explained that chronic inflammation – which comes hand-in-hand with the virus – is a big reason why, but treatment toxicity, substance abuse, social isolation and the unwieldy number of drugs that HIV patients often take probably contributes as well.

Research to better understand and ultimately counteract this early aging is underway and there are clues that monocyte activation – the initiation of immune activity by a type of white blood – may be predictive of long-term disease outcome.  For now, however, Deeks recommends early treatment with antiretroviral therapy (which is associated with less inflammation) and encourages patients to quit smoking, exercise and eat a healthy diet. 

The second talk, delivered by Paul Johnson, M.D., Director of the New England Primate Research Center, Harvard University, was titled “How to build a better AIDS vaccine: Lessons learned from attenuated SIV.” SIV, or simian immunodeficiency virus, is a close relative of H.I.V. that scientists often use to test components of possible AIDS vaccines. Johnson has previously shown that infection of non-human primates with a weakened form of SIV can protect them against subsequent infection with virulent strains of the virus, but the basis for this protection has remained obscure.

Johnson described new work, which shows that these weakened strains of SIV elicit a unique type of immune response that includes properties of two types of long-lived, infection-fighting white blood cells called T lymphocytes.  These T cells have characteristics of both long-lived “soldier” cells (so called “effector memory” T cells) that can immediately fight off virus infection, as well as long-lived “stem” cells (so called “central memory” T cells) that can rapidly proliferate to provide a continuous source of new “soldiers”.

In addition to the talks, forty-four research projects were presented during the symposium’s poster session. A panel of faculty judges, chosen because of their expertise in the presented areas, reviewed and scored 27 eligible posters based on their composition, achievement and overall quality. The following winners were announced:

· Post Doctoral Associate Award: David Griffith, Departments of Internal Medicine/Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine for his poster “Knowledge of HPV among HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected adolescents in South Africa”

· Post Doctoral Associate Award: Meera V. Singh, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, for her poster on “Elevated Levels of Soluble CD40L Cause Increase in Circulating Platelet-Monocyte Complexes: Possible Role in HIV-associated Neuro-inflammation”

· Graduate Student Award: John T. M. DiMaio, Department of Chemistry, for his poster “Self-Assembled Peptide Materials for Prevention of HIV Transmission” 

· Undergraduate Research Award:  Katherine Thomas, Department of Psychiatry, for her poster “ Addressing Systemic Issues And Health of Women In Drug Treatment Court”

· Undergraduate Research Award: Christopher Nishimura, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, for his poster “Changes in Capillary Morphology and Red Blood Cell Velocity in a Mouse Model of HIV Neuroinflammation”