Can we learn how to treat HIV from HIV resistant people?
While most patients living with HIV require medication (antiretroviral therapy) to keep the virus under control, there is a small population whose own immune systems fight HIV well enough to keep the virus down to undetectable levels without any medication.
In her research, Dr. Bernard seeks to understand what is different about these individual’s immune systems, and to apply this information to make therapies to help others’ similarly fight off HIV. Specifically, she is interested in looking at their antibodies. Antibodies are the molecules their immune systems send to recognize and fight off HIV; virus-specific antibodies are also what’s delivered in a vaccine. In this study, Dr. Bernard is taking samples of antibodies from people living with HIV who either can control the virus without antiretroviral therapy or are receiving therapy to control the virus. She is then testing these antibodies on HIV-infected cells in her lab, and finding out how they perform to control the HIV virus. Understanding how the immune system does or does not properly control HIV will help Dr. Bernard to design immune therapies and vaccines to help patients control the HIV virus without, or in addition to, antiretroviral therapy.