The road to HIV research is winding, many of the students that CAHR has supported have come into HIV research from various other disciplines and interests. DeAnna Zanet, currently completing her MSc at UBC, studied postharvest pathogens of apples during undergrad but became interested in HIV research in her fourth year. “It was quite a leap!” DeAnna says, “I took an in-depth course on the biochemistry of HIV infection and really got into HIV at a basic science level.” For her Masters research, DeAnna has joined Dr. Helene Côté’s laboratory, and in collaboration with other Canadian researchers, is studying the effects of HIV and antiretroviral therapy on cellular markers of aging in HIV infected and uninfected people.
DeAnna looks at telomeres, the protective ‘caps’ at the ends of our DNA that shorten as our bodies go through a lifetime of cell division and replication, to measure aging. Shorter telomeres are associated with accelerated aging and age related illnesses such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. HIV+ individuals tend to age faster than HIV- individuals, which may be due to antiretroviral therapy, viral proteins, co-morbidities and other factors. DeAnna’s research has already touched on the impacts of smoking, age, HIV status, income, and Hepatitis C co-infection on telomere length. At CAHR 2013, DeAnna shared her research into the effects of smoking on telomere length, where she discovered that current smoking status, rather than cumulative exposure, had the biggest impact.
Dr. Côté, DeAnna’s MSc supervisor points out that DeAnna’s research has already brought to light important new knowledge that is guiding the future research of the lab. And, she’s an asset to other lab members as well; “She promotes discussion in our lab,” explains Dr. Côté, “she encourages other members to contribute and keeps them up to date on current publications and news in the field”.
The CAHR is proud to support students like DeAnna with funding for annual CAHR/CIHR Master’s Awards. Thanks to this year’s CAHR/CIHRe award, DeAnna is progressing in her research. “The award has allowed me to take more of an independent leadership role in my project,” explains DeAnna. “With its support, I have been fortunate to present some results from my MSc at national and international conferences.” DeAnna says she benefits from the exchange of knowledge at these conferences, and is particularly inspired by current research in social sciences.
It’s not hard to see the value of DeAnna’s research, not only for the HIV research community, but to the aging research community as well. “My research has shed light on what factors may be contributing to accelerated aging at the cellular level,” explains DeAnna “from this, we can determine how modification of lifestyle and other factors could prevent this acceleration.“ Though time marches on for everyone, DeAnna hopes that her research can help to improve health and prolong life.
Congratulations on your research thus far DeAnna, and good luck in your future!