The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is now considered a chronic disease in the developed world. In underdeveloped areas where access to antiretroviral therapy is limited, however, it remains a devastating disease contributing to grave socioeconomic problems.
The goal of my research is to expand our knowledge of pathogen interactions with cellular membranes by developing a detailed understanding of the mechanism of HIV entry and by studying co-infection of HIV with the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans in human macrophages.
The first step of HIV infection is HIV entry when the envelope protein complex on the surface of the virus comes into contact with the cellular receptors, glycoprotein CD4 and coreceptor, and mediates merging of the viral and cellular membranes leading to delivery of the viral genetic material. Mechanistic studies help to inform the development of inhibitors to HIV entry that will be beneficial on both therapeutic and prophylactic levels. The envelope protein complex is the machinery that gets the virus into the cell; as such, it is also a prime target for the development of vaccines.
HIV/AIDS often kills by priming the host for opportunistic infections. Cryptococcal meningitis is one of the leading killers of AIDS patients. The human macrophage is the cell type tasked with ingesting and clearing microbes. In my lab, we are working to define the role of the human macrophage in the copathogenesis of the opportunistic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans and HIV during AIDS progression. The mechanisms of host-microbe interactions also serve as templates for the design of novel drug regimens, including immunotherapy.
We have recently utilized our extensive experience in the study of how HIV enters the cell to begin studies in Ebolavirus entry which has a similar mechanism. We are developing inhibitors to the process of Ebolavirus entry and using developments in inhibition to study the mechanism of attachment and membrane fusion into multiple cell types.
It is my objective throughout my career to provide vital basic research in virology and cell biology in order to advance medical treatment and prevention. As an academic researcher, I put a strong emphasis on the training and mentoring of young scientists in my lab, and I participate in the T35 training grant from the National Institutes of Health that UB and Roswell Park Cancer Institute jointly secured. I train master’s and PhD students as well as postdoctoral fellows in the departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Biochemistry. I also mentor undergraduates in research projects; these students may come to me independently or through UB’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) in which I am active. I direct undergraduate studies for my department, and I am the course director for Biomedical Microbiology, my department’s large undergraduate basic science course.