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McMaster Researchers are First in Canada to Develop a Humanized Mouse Model of HIV Sexual Transmission

Dr. Jocelyn Wessels and Dr. Charu Kaushic at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR), McMaster University.

Researchers at McMaster University are the first in Canada to develop a humanized mouse model that mimics the sexual transmission of HIV-1.

Drs. Charu Kaushic and Ali Ashkar, members of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and McMaster Immunology Research Center, spearheaded this research, recently published in Scientific Reports. The study utilizes a mouse model to determine which factors are most important in determining whether an HIV-1 infection will occur after mice are exposed to the virus.

Dr. Ashkar and his team (Dr. Fatemah Vahedi and Marianne Chew) generated the humanized mice – mice containing a human immune system and human cells that can be infected by HIV-1. Dr. Kaushic’s team (Kristen Mueller, Philip Nguyen and Dr. Jocelyn Wessels) optimized HIV infection, with the help of members from both labs.

Through the use of mathematical modeling and mouse infection studies, the authors were able to reveal a significant correlation between intravaginal HIV-1 infection in the humanized mice and the frequency of human CD45+ target cells in the blood. Further, they were able to confirm that the amount of virus found in the blood after infection was based on how many viruses started the infection.

Drs. Kaushic’s and Ashkar’s study is meaningful as it is the first to show that infection is established regardless of local inflammation in the vaginal tract. It also highlights the importance of testing to determine if reducing target cells in the female genital tract should be the main focus for preventing HIV-1 infection.

The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) HIV Mucosal Vaccine grant and CIHR operating grants awarded to Dr. Charu Kaushic.

The paper may be found here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15630-z.

For more information, please contact Dr. Charu Kaushic at kaushic@mcmaster.ca.