Here at the NIBSC we have a long-established research group investigating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and related viruses. For over 30 years the institute has conducted research that supports development of a vaccine. This comprises basic science focused on the pathology of infection and studies testing candidate vaccines.
During that time, we have developed world class expertise in novel vaccines evaluation. With our specialist containment facilities and staff competent in developing model systems, we can begin to understand the complex interactions between these viruses and their hosts.
HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was due to the availability of antiretroviral medicines to keep the virus under control. However, vaccination that reduces the severity of HIV infection would prevent the debilitating damage that the virus can cause to the body in the long-term. Our research focuses on the following topics:
Microscopy images showing viral infection in spleen (left) and brain (right) tissue
The anti-retroviral drugs used to control HIV are most effective in the blood and are not able to completely control any virus found in the rest of the body including the brain. This can cause some people infected with HIV to develop problems with memory, processing information quickly and learning new skills.
We use a combination of immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridisation techniques to investigate what happens to the brains during infection. This helps us understand how these neurological problems develop and how we may be able to develop treatments to stop them.
Ultimately the best way to prevent HIV infection will be through the use of an effective vaccine. This will not only remove the risk of people developing complications following infection but also help the many thousands of people living with HIV throughout the World that are unable to access a reliable source of antiretroviral medicines.
Attenuated SIV causes persisting neuroinflammation in the absence of a chronic viral load and neurotoxic antiretroviral therapy Deborah Ferguson, Sean Clarke, Neil Berry, and Neil AlmondAIDS. 2016 Oct 23; 30(16): 2439–2448.
Amplification and sequencing of viral genomes
HIV and related viruses can evade the immune system, spread infection throughout the body and cause disease. Using models we have developed, we can study infection and disease progression under tightly controlled conditions. This deepens our knowledge of host-virus interaction and reveals new targets for vaccine development.
Remnants of ancient retroviruses can still be detected in the human genome and may still have a role to play in human health. We investigate changes in expression of these endogenous retro-elements with different infection status.
Variable Baseline Papio cynocephalus Endogenous Retrovirus (PcEV) Expression Is Upregulated in Acutely SIV-Infected Macaques and Correlated to STAT1 Expression in the Spleen Emmanuel Atangana Maze, Claire Ham, Jack Kelly, Lindsay Ussher, Neil Almond, Greg J. Towers, Neil Berry, Robert Belshaw Front Immunol. 2019; 10: 901.
Some viruses, related to HIV, prevent subsequent infection with other retroviruses. We investigate the contribution of innate immunity, adaptive immunity and viral interference in this protection.
Using these viruses as a vaccine in our model we can begin to understand the mechanisms of protection against future infection. These finding will inform the development of effective, targeted vaccines.
Partners in academia and industry have approached us to test likely vaccine candidates in our model. We can discover the best formulation and regime required to protect an individual against disease.
Vaccination of Macaques with DNA Followed by Adenoviral Vectors Encoding Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) Gag Alone Delays Infection by Repeated Mucosal Challenge with SIV. Almond N, Berry N, Stebbings R, Preston M, Ham C, Page M, Ferguson D, Rose N, Li B, Mee ET, Hassall M, Stahl-Hennig C, Athanasopoulos T, Papagatsias T, Herath S, Benlahrech A, Dickson G, Meiser A, Patterson S. J Virol. 2019 Oct 15;93(21).
Neil Almond, Head of Infectious Disease DiagnosticsNeil Berry, Principal ScientistDeborah Ferguson, Principal Scientist