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KNOXVILLE—December marks National AIDS Awareness month. Vitaly Ganusov, assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has made it his life’s work to uncover how HIV operates.

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is what causes AIDS.

Ganusov is involved in groundbreaking research that could be key to developing a vaccination against HIV. Combining large sets of experimental data from collaborators in the US and England and using computer modeling, he has shed light on how the body responds once infected with HIV and how scientists may be able to improve the body’s response with vaccination.

Currently, he is studying patients who have been diagnosed with infection within two to four weeks following exposure—tracking the virus’ dynamics and evolution and the patients’ immune responses to the virus.

“We have found that the virus goes unchecked by T cells, the body’s immunity response, for two or three weeks,” said Ganusov. “Then the T-cell response develops and is likely to contribute to the early control of viruses in the patient’s bloodstream. But then the virus mutates and is able to evade those T cells and persist.”

Through his research, Ganusov has observed a second wave of T cell responses. The virus is unable to quickly escape these T cells.

Ganusov theorizes that the virus is more vulnerable to T cells later in the infection because it has replicated and run out of options to evade the T-cell response. He believes inducing a bodily response by vaccination to get to this point sooner could be key to guarding against HIV.

Ganusov’s computer modeling for the project also may prove helpful in vaccine trials. Instead of performing an expensive vaccine efficacy test on human beings, the potential impact of vaccine candidates could be investigated using his predictive models, saving time and money.

Ganusov began HIV modeling six years ago and worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory before coming to UT Knoxville. He collaborates with researchers from all over the world.

Ganusov is available to the media for interviews.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)