Brockman and his team will examine how human T cells can be used to target latent HIV infection.

FHS professor receives CIHR funding to study the role of T cells in treating HIV

February 08, 2019
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FHS professor Mark Brockman is one of three SFU researchers who has received a project grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) fall 2018 competition. Brockman and his team will examine how human T cells can be used to target latent HIV infection, bridging recent advances in cancer therapy with renewed efforts to achieve an HIV cure.

Combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is highly effective at controlling HIV replication, but cART does not eliminate latent virus-infected cells. Therefore, treatment must be maintained for life to avoid recurrent disease.

T cell-based strategies are now being used successfully to treat human cancer. Similar approaches might be able to eliminate rare HIV-infected cells in cART-treated individuals, but antiviral T cell populations suitable for therapeutic use have not been examined closely.

In a recent study that was unique in terms of its depth of analysis, Brockman and his team examined the role of HIV-specific T cell receptors in the context of spontaneous viral control.  This new project will extend this research by examining the sequence and function of larger panels of T cell receptors from many more people, providing an unprecedented level of detail of single antiviral T cells.

By identifying features of T cell responses that contribute to control of diverse HIV variants, the researchers hope to improve development of vaccines and therapeutic strategies to eliminate HIV in cART-treated individuals.

With funding of more than $700,000 over 5 years, Brockman will lead a team that includes Zabrina Brumme (FHS) and other co-investigators from SFU, the University of Toronto and the BC Cancer Agency, along with collaborators in South Africa, United States, France and China.

"The results of this project will enhance our basic understanding of human immune responses to infection." says Brockman. "The long-term goal of this research is to design new clinical strategies that can be offered in combination with cART to cure HIV."

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