Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology
What are your research interests and projects currently under way?
My research focuses on HIV. One aspect of this work involves looking at how the virus interacts with cells. We set up a viral life cycle, and then look at the virus in time-lapse and sync that with how the virus interacts with the host cell. We are interested in looking at how it transfers and moves within cells as it infects them.
Another aspect of my research focuses on sexual transmission of the virus. Specifically, we are looking at how HIV crosses the epithelial barrier. As part of this research, we use samples of human tissue obtained during surgical procedures. This is our first level of observation. When we observe something interesting in this model, we then apply the study to a rhesus macaque monkey. This is an excellent animal model to use in HIV studies because Simian immunodeficiency is similar to HIV.
Our goal is to find out how the HIV virus crosses the epithelial layer; then we can apply this research into developing a vaccine to prevent this from happening.
We have learned much about HIV in the past few decades. We have developed effective medications to help control the disease, but these are expensive and difficult to provide to the parts of the world where needed most—especially third world nations. Our efforts now must be to find a vaccine to prevent the occurrence of HIV. I am proud to be a member of the Center for HIV-AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI), a consortium of about 300 researchers at universities and academic medical centers around the world. CHAVI was established by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) with the goal of solving major problems in HIV vaccine development and design.
What brought you to the Feinberg School?
I came to Feinberg about three years ago because I welcomed the opportunity to work with such an esteemed group of scientists. In particular, the Cell & Developmental Biology here is outstanding and offers researchers such as myself incredible resources and technology to support our work.
What challenges do you face?
We must continue to keep HIV research as a priority. We have learned a lot, but there is so much more to do. I am lucky to have my work supported by NIH as well as by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Funding is critical, so we must keep this important work in the hearts and minds of the public.