A research center run by the University of Utah Health that studies the inner workings and vulnerabilities of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, recently received $28 million from the National Institutes of Health.
The CHEETAH Center for Structural Biology of HIV Infection Restriction and Viral Dynamics has been researching HIV and its potential treatments since its inception in 2007, publishing over 300 research papers.
Wes Sundquist, director of CHEETAH and chairman of the department of biochemistry at the U, said the goal of their research is to understand the mechanisms of HIV in molecular detail and learn more about how to target the virus.
“Viruses can teach us a lot about cell biology,” Sundquist said. “They have been moving through our bodies for a long time. They’ve discovered which pathways work well for them, but also which ones become drug targets, especially if we understand them at the molecular level.
Mark Ladinsky, an electron microscopy scientist at CalTech and a scientist at CHEETAH, said much of his research revolves around studying the interactions of infected HIV cells and identifying which cells are most susceptible to HIV infection. ‘infection.
“I’m looking to see where the virus is, what cells it associates with in these different tissues, how infected cells interact with each other, and how those cells transmit the virus and where they go from there,” said Ladinski.
According to Ladinsky, research at CHEETAH also includes studying the pathways that HIV takes in cells, which could help create more effective treatments for the virus.
“We can see that there is not just one way the virus can spread in these cells, but multiple ways, which means there are possibly multiple ways we can try to block or to inhibit the budding and replication of the virus,” says Ladinski.
Sundquist said another big area of study at CHEETAH involves the HIV capsid protein, which is the shell around the genetic material of the HIV virus. This examination of the capsid, Sundquist said, led to the development of an effective treatment for HIV by Gilead Sciences.
“It lasts for months in patients, and it gives the possibility of treating people quarterly instead of daily, which has quite important implications for drug resistance and adherence and in a way also the ease of being treated as an HIV-positive patient,” Sundquist said. .
While CHEETAH’s HIV research has helped scientists better understand the virus, the goal, Sundquist said, is to find a cure.
“In the future, the focus is more on how to cure someone of HIV and also how to develop a vaccine that would prevent transmission?” Sundquist said. “These two problems are not solved. We’re trying to pivot to understand basic research that would help us think about how to… do these things.
HIV testing at the U
In addition to researching the virus, the Center for Student Wellness offers free STI and HIV testing for all students throughout the fall and spring semesters, said TeMerae Blackwater, a health educator at U.
“For HIV testing, we do a rapid test with the oral clinic,” Blackwater said. “We just swab the mouth and the students can get the results in 20 minutes. We [also] test for gonorrhea and chlamydia through urine samples.
According to Blackwater, this test is not fully confirmatory, so those who test positive for HIV will have a blood test to confirm the presence of the virus.
“If someone has a positive reactive test, we pay for a confirmation blood draw with them at Student Health Center,” Blackwater said.
The approach taken at the Center for Student Wellness is gentle and understanding, Blackwater said, with the goal of educating people and normalizing conversations about STIs.
“Everyone is going to get an STI throughout their life,” Blackwater said. “We normalize the conversation about sex. We just make the language gender neutral. We don’t blame behavior. We see people as humans.
HIV and STI testing clinics will be held several times this semester at the Center for Student Wellness and the Women’s Resource Center. More details can be found on the Center for Student Wellness website.