How can understanding the body’s response to HIV help cure it?
Dr. Mouland studies how the HIV virus infects human cells.
The HIV virus uses human white blood cells to multiply itself, which can then spread to more cells, and repeat the process. When human cells are infected by less severe viruses, such as the flu, they can kill the virus particles through a process called “autophagy.” Autophagy is the process through which a cell digests old or damaged parts of itself. When a virus particle enters a cell, autophagy is used to digest the virus, essentially eating it. One of the reasons why the HIV virus is so successful is because it sends out chemical signals that tell autophagy to stop, protecting HIV from digestion. In this study, Dr. Mouland is closely observing HIV-infected cells in his lab and studying how exactly the HIV virus avoids autophagy, i.e. what is the chemical signal it sends out, and how does this signal tell autophagy to stop? In order to design drugs that interfere with HIV’s ability to stop autophagy, we first need to understand how it does so in the first place, and that is precisely what Dr. Mouland will try to discover in his study.