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3.12.2010

Miller School’s D-CFAR Hosts Françoise Barré-Sinoussi

Barré-Sinoussi is a Nobel Laureate and Renowned HIV Expert

The Miller School’s Developmental Center for AIDS Research (D-CFAR) hosted one of the world’s foremost scientists engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Ph.D., co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of HIV, presented an hour-long lecture, “What Can We Learn from the Diverse Spectrum of HIV/SIV Infections?” to faculty and students at the Lois Pope LIFE Center auditorium on Thursday.

After opening remarks by Savita Pahwa, M.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and director of D-CFAR, and an introduction by Helena Schmidtmayerova, Ph.D., research assistant professor of microbiology and immunology and Barré-Sinoussi’s former student, the Nobel laureate gave a detailed review of the discovery of HIV, immunopathogenesis of HIV infection, and treatment strategies developed over the years. During the presentation, Barré-Sinoussi also shed light on the research being undertaken by two teams in her Paris-based labs at the Institut Pasteur, where she is acting director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit.

“By learning through the spectrum we can better understand what we need to protect against HIV,” said Barré-Sinoussi. “We have made wonderful progress in HIV biology, although the progress in prevention has not been as impressive as the progress in treatment. However, we still need to work to understand what we need to do to avoid the development of AIDS in individuals.”

Barré-Sinoussi also presented results of her team’s SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) studies with African green monkeys, the natural host of SIV that does not develop AIDS-like syndromes. She discussed how unraveling evolutionary adaptations of this species might provide valuable knowledge for new vaccine designs that might induce effective immune responses without the harmful consequences of excessive immune activation.

A member of the department headed by Luc Montagnier, Ph.D., Barré-Sinoussi was first author of a 1983 seminal report they published in Science on a discovery of a new retrovirus isolated from patients at risk for AIDS. The virus eventually became known as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In 1988, she began operating her own lab at the Institut and initiated research programs on viral and host determinants of HIV/AIDS pathogenesis.

Currently, Barré-Sinoussi’s teams are working on mechanisms required to protect against HIV/SIV infections and early pathogenic signals induced by HIV/SIV. Along with her scientific work, Barré-Sinoussi has promoted strong interactions between HIV/AIDS research and public health interventions in resource-limited countries.

Schmidtmayerova, who met Barré-Sinoussi in 1986 as a fellow in the Laboratory of Retroviral Biology at the Institut Pasteur, said lecture attendees would benefit from her former mentor’s thorough knowledge of the field of HIV. “She gave an excellent overview of current knowledge of immunopathogenesis of HIV infection and the potential difficulties involved in achieving a vaccine for HIV,” said Schmidtmayerova.

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