Professor helps to model AIDS virus

A GW professor may be a step closer to finding a vaccination for AIDS.

With his team, physics assistant professor Guanyu Wang has successfully created a computer model replicating the evolution of the HIV virus in all its stages within the human body. Wang did most of his research at Rice University in Texas with the study’s co-author Michael Deem of Rice University.

“Before my work, very few people had a successful model of all three stages,” Wang said. The computer model is the most realistic model of HIV ever made, he said.

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is a “retrovirus” that eventually causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. The immune system of AIDS patients deteriorates, leading to infections and death. Between 33.4 and 46 million people live with HIV worldwide and estimates say that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981.

Wang and Deem identified in their study that competition between lymphocytes plays a role in HIV’s evolution. Wang said that these lymphocytes, specifically the human immune system’s T-cells, compete to kill the virus.

“The virus exploits this competition,” Wang said. The model found that HIV is undetected by the human body during most of its first stage, until immune system recognition reduces the amount of virus. During the second phase, the lymphocytes compete, allowing HIV to change to defeat the T-cell type. This phase can last nearly 10 years.

In their model, Wang and Deem were able to isolate the T-cell competition to various points in the body. This made it increasingly difficult for HIV to conform to defeat the immune system. In this realistic model, HIV was unable to move into its third stage, which is AIDS.

Now, Wang said, it is possible for his study to help point to a vaccination that eliminates T-cell competition. Other GW professors who research AIDS may feel an impact from this study.

“It would impact our research,” said Fatah Kashanci, Biochemistry, and Microbiology and Tropical Medicine professor. Kashanci is the co-director of the Institute for Protemics Technology and Applications.

Kashanci said that his own AIDS research involves finding inhibitive drugs, and then synthesizing a model vaccination and placing it on the HIV virus. He said it is possible that Wang’s research could have a large impact on his own work, as well as the work of others at the institute.

Wang is new to GW this year, and he plans to continue with much of his research at the University.

“Because I’m just coming here, I have other projects, but HIV is the main component of my research,” Wang said. He added that it will be difficult to work with Deem now, but the two will continue to communicate.

Wang and Deem’s work is slated for publication in Physical Review Letters.

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