|Job Title||Research Officer|
|Date of Scholarship||20 June -18 August 2012|
|Host Institution||The Neutralizing Antibody Centre at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA|
|Scholarship Title||Defining the desired antibody response to HIV|
I spent two months at the IAVI's neutralizing antibody center learning assays related to characterization of antibody function.
In the initial phase, I learnt how to evaluate sera from chronic HIV-1 patients for broad neutralization of HIV-1. As part of the neutralization assay I also learnt how to prepare HIV-1 mutant pseudoviruses by site directed mutagenesis of the HIV-1 envelope, and thereafter using the mutated envelop to transfect a permissive cell line that would in turn generate the desired HIV-1 mutants. Other antibody characterization assays that I learnt include a binding assay and a capture assay that can be utilized to map the epitopes against which a HIV response is directed. In addition, I learnt an Antibody Dependent Cellular Cytotoxicity (ADCC) assay to evaluate the Fc-R mediated effector functions of an antibody. Finally, I received level-3 biosafety lab training. The process of learning these assays involved learning basic lab techniques such as maintenance of a pure cell line, extraction of DNA, transformation, and production and purification of the HIV-1 protein gp140. These are all techniques that I will employ to characterize antibodies in the sera of a HIV exposed but seronegative cohort with respect to their ability to neutralise virus or to mediate antibody-mediated cellular cytotoxicity, which may explain their protection from HIV infection despite multiple exposures. These assays were previously not established at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and will be of interest not just to myself but also to other HIV immunologists at Kilifi.
The Neutralising Antibody Centre has a large team of HIV scientists, including structural and computational biologists, immunologists and protein chemists that investigate the function of HIV-specific antibodies with the aim to devise an effective AIDS vaccine. Through out my training, I met several of these scientists. I learnt about their research, and the approach that they are taking to define the immune response that an effective vaccine needs to elicit, and to design an immunogen that would be capable of eliciting such responses. The training that I received not only equipped me with valuable immunology and molecular biology techniques but also enriched my understanding of immunity, and of the current trends in research within HIV immunology.