brumme lab (4)Xiaomei (Tallie) Kuang, a Masters student from Simon Fraser University, is exploring how to eliminate a “sleeping virus”. In a person living with HIV, highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) is able to keep the level of virus in the body to a minimum. However, complete removal of HIV has not been possible because of latent reservoirs that cannot be targeted with HAART. A source of virus always remains in the body that can reestablish infection if treatment is stopped. A new avenue of research is investigating how to awaken these latent cells intentionally using anti-latency agents. This would make the cells more prone to the immune system and to other therapeutic agents.

But there are hurdles in this line of treatment. “Right now, a major challenge is that these cells are hard to reactivate, and even after they are activated, the cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs) of the immune system might not be able to recognize or kill them,” explains Tallie. “One explanation for this is that these cells may not be efficient at presenting viral epitopes (viral proteins) on their surface, so CTLs don’t see them as being infected. It is also possible that anti-latency agents themselves alter epitope presentation.”

Currently, Tallie is developing an assay that will allow her to test these two theories. She will then measure the ability of reactivated cells to present HIV epitopes and determine whether exposure to anti-latency agents alters epitope presentation. With support from the CAHR Master’s Award, Tallie is able to purchase lab supplies to study HIV epitope presentation in response to different anti-latency drugs and travel to conferences to share her work with the HIV research community. Ultimately, she hopes that the results of her work can help to guide research towards the most effective anti-latency therapeutics, bringing us one step closer to a cure.

The Canadian Association for HIV Research is proud to support students like Tallie Kuang in their research through graduate research awards. Please visit https://www.cahr-acrv.ca/funding-opportunities/ to learn more.