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Grantees Profile

Lenine Liebenberg

Country (Nationality)

South Africa

Grantee Title

Project Title: The effects of recent sex on the genital immune environment

Grantee Description

Host Organisation: Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), South Africa

Infection of sexually-transmitted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is aided by breaks in the genital mucosal barrier and by access to local cellular targets for infection. Recent evidence highlights the importance of genital inflammation in undermining the protective effect of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); and underscores the need for determining the causes of genital inflammation and, ultimately, limiting their effect on the mucosal barrier and access to local cellular targets for HIV infection.

Semen contains several factors known to modulate the immune environment of the female genital mucosa in order to facilitate conception, and these may contribute to HIV risk. In this project, the genital microbiome, and biomarkers of inflammation, will be assessed in the context of recent sex, (i) in genital specimens of both male and female partners of a monogamous couple, and (ii) on in vitro simulation of unprotected sex with the primary or new partners. This project therefore proposes to improve the understanding of the peri-coital immune milieu, its persistence over time, and the contribution of having multiple sexual partners; with each concept relevant to the design of effective methods to limit HIV infection in women.

Based in the province with the highest incidence of HIV in my country, I am driven by a passion to understand and control the biological factors that increase women's risk of HIV infection. I am motivated by the prospect of this work promoting male involvement in clinics/clinical trials, as male immunology in this context is, inconceivably, a niche area in basic science research.