It is a bit like the old joke – I have some bad news and some good news.
The bad news was that the Master’s research Lindsay Aboud was pursuing, with the support of the CAHR/ViiV Healthcare Master’s Scholarship in HIV Research, turned out to be not as promising as originally envisioned.
The good news? A line of the research that she thought was only important as a control for the actual research turned out to point the way toward her doctoral research.
Aboud, whose main interest is mucosal immunity, was pursuing a line of research based on findings about SEVI, or Semen-derived Enhancer of Virus Infection. Her hypothesis was that sex workers resistant to HIV had the ability to express innate immune factors in their vaginal tract mucosal linings that inhibit SEVI, thus reducing their susceptibility to infection.
However, part way through her research another research team published its results. It turns out that the initial research had looked at SEVI in isolation. In its natural environment, as just one part of semen, other factors diminish SEVI’s ability to enhance HIV infection.
“That paper was a little heartbreaking,” says Aboud.
Undaunted though, she turned her attention to understanding the role of female genital tract secretions. The role these secretions play in HIV acquisition has been unclear, with researchers not sure whether components of these secretions are pro- or anti-viral. That is now the focus of Aboud’s doctoral research – to break down CVL and see where the anti- and pro-viral factors reside.
“Lindsay’s strengths are her curiousity and her dedication and hard work,” says her supervisor, Dr. Blake Ball of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Medical Microbiology. “Research is self-driven and it needs these qualities.”
Aboud’s goal is to contribute toward the development of a vaginal microbicide that women can use to prevent HIV infection. Having just spent the summer working in Ghana, Aboud knows how important having a way to fight HIV that is under their own control means to women in traditional societies.
When you talk about microbicides with these women, Aboud says, “all of the women just get this light in their eyes. They want to be able to control [prevention] themselves, not have to rely on men.”
In the long-term, Aboud wants to complete her PhD and also go to medical school. She wants to both practice and carry out research in Africa.
“I knew I was going to be involved in HIV work somehow,” she says. “But I want to be able to help the field progress, not just work in it.”
The CAHR scholarship was one of the first major scholarships that Aboud had received. “It gave me confidence in knowing that others also saw worth in this work, that I know has potential to offer so much to the HIV/AIDS research field.”