Project Title: Examining the role genetic and epigenetic host factors have on HIV disease
Host Organisation: University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Differences exist whether an individual gets infected with HIV or how rapidly they progress with the disease. The genetic makeup of a person plays a major role in determining which people get infected and how fast they progress to AIDS. Specific immune genes, responsible for presenting pieces of a pathogen to the immune system, were shown to vary in expression. The expression of these genes, Human Leucocyte Antigen (HLA), were also shown to control HIV progression to AIDS. Determining the molecules that control the expression of the HLA genes serve as important sites for designing new drug target sites. My research focuses on identifying factors that control expression of HLA genes and determining if altering these pathways could lead to better HIV outcomes. The excitement and importance stems from using this knowledge to develop new treatment strategies against HIV. My research has wide implications for individuals infected with HIV and researchers studying the disease. My recent work identified a biomarker for HIV progression, within South Africa ~2 million people infected with HIV have this genetic makeup. Identifying more biomarkers within disease burden populations, such as sub-Saharan Africa, will allow us to determine which individuals will progress faster to AIDS. Furthermore, research that identifies factors that control expression of these markers could prove as valuable drug target sites that directly affect the high burdened populations.