The Immunovirology and Pathogenesis Program (IVPP) was formed in 2005, resulting from the amalgamation of the Laboratory Support and Primary HIV Infection Research Programs. The group works very closely with the Immunovirology group at the St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research. The activities of the IVPP can be divided into three categories. A substantial proportion of laboratory-based activity is directed towards providing routine or semi-routine laboratory support essential for the successful conduct of clinical trials and epidemiological studies conducted by The Kirby Institute, through specimen processing and conduct of specialised immunological and virological assays. These include immunogenicity assays for vaccine trials. The second component is the conduct of clinical trials and natural history studies in pathogenically informative populations of patients with HIV-infection such as those identified with primary infection and long term non-progressors. Finally, senior scientists and academics within the Program are responsible for their own research projects on pathogenesis and development of therapeutics.
Immunopathogenesis work currently relates to CD4 T-cell function in early HIV infection and in natural controllers of the disease. Novel methodologies for the characterisation of antigen-specific T cells and T regulatory cell have been established allowing the functional and molecular characterisation of these difficult to study cells. These novel methodologies have substantial implications for the understanding of the immunopathogenesis of a range of infections apart from HIV infection, including Hepatitis C and autoimmune diseases. It has also allowed us to gain insights into the location of reservoirs of HIV infections. The effect of early therapeutic intervention with integrase inhibitors and other anti-retroviral regimens on these reservoirs is one of the major current focuses within the laboratory.
We have also described a novel way of knocking down HIV replication using promoter targeted siRNAs which induce transcriptional gene silencing. This novel approach induces prolonged and profound suppression of viral replication by inducing a repressive chromatin structure in the integrated forms of both HIV-1 and SIV. Current efforts in this project focus on assessing effective delivery systems for these constructs and understanding the mechanisms underlying the induction and maintenance of this state that is similar to viral latency.
The IVPP works collaboratively with the other Kirby Institute programs, the St Vincent’s NSW HIV Reference laboratory and a number of Australian and international groups both in the first world with current productive collaborations with groups based in the North America, UK and Japan, and with groups in the developing world, particularly in Thailand.
The IVPP is located in a purpose-built facility in the Wallace Wurth Building on the UNSW campus. Its facilities include a state of the art PC3 laboratory. The group has the capacity to perform advanced multi-parameter flow cytometry, and to safely perform biologically contained multi-parameter cell sorting. This allows the functional and molecular characterisation of lymphocyte populations. The laboratory is well equipped for both cellular and molecular work. The access to material from both natural history studies and clinical trials conducted by both the IVPP and other programs within The Kirby Institute means that much of this work is conducted on clinically relevant material. The group has successfully trained and mentored a large number of PhD and honours students.