Since the global emergence of HIV, a particular subset of people has caught the interest of the HIV research community. It appears that some people, despite repeated exposure to HIV, have never become infected. Many studies have looked into the differences between these individuals and the rest of the population, showing differences in mucosal immune responses in cervical, salivary and foreskin secretions. However, little work has looked at mucosal immune differences in the rectum of MSM (men who have sex with men).
Laura Romas, an MSc student at the University of Manitoba, is working with data collected from a cohort of HIV- MSM, from the Venhälsan clinic in Stockholm Sweden, who are in a sero-discordant relationship (a relationship with an HIV+ partner). Using samples of rectal mucosal secretions, Laura is looking for anti-viral proteins that may imply a reduced susceptibility to HIV infection. So far, she’s has some promising results. “There are about four or five peptides that we are looking into right now that seem to be overexpressed in these men,” says Laura. “I’m looking at them now in HIV neutralization assays and hopefully we’ll get a few new targets.” Should these peptides show promise, they could be used as components of microbicide gels to prevent HIV transmission during intercourse.
It’s the direct applicability of the research that really attracted Laura. “I feel MSM are less covered in the current literature, especially HIV transmission through the rectum,” explains Laura. “We have very high powered technology to really get some really good targets that we can follow up on that may actually make a difference in people’s lives in the coming years.”
The CAHR Masters award is helping Laura in her research and her future goals. “It’s very reassuring to know that someone else thinks your research is as valuable as you think it is! The grant has helped me purchase tools to help me further my research and it’s a great CV booster.”
The Canadian Association for HIV Research is proud to support students like Laura Romas in their research through graduate research awards. Please visit https://www.cahr-acrv.ca/funding-opportunities/ to learn more.