The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


25 Jul 2016

Doherty Institute researchers shine at AIDS 2016

A number of talented senior and up-and-coming HIV scientists from the Doherty Institute have just returned from Durban, South Africa, after showcasing their research at the 21st International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2016.

Leading the Doherty Institute delegation was Director, Professor Sharon Lewin who co-chaired the Towards an HIV Cure Symposium with Laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the woman behind the discovery of HIV. Professor Lewin also presented an overview of cure research at several community workshops.

“We have a wealth of scientific talent here at the Doherty Institute, and it was a fantastic opportunity for some of them to travel to Durban to share their innovative research with the world,” Professor Lewin said.

The Institute had five posters accepted into both the main conference and the Towards an HIV Cure Symposium which included research projects focusing on HIV latency and an innovative new HIV prevention tool using specially modified cow’s milk.

First year PhD student in Professor Stephen Kent’s group, Matthew Worley’s abstract was accepted for an oral presentation which is an impressive achievement for a young scientist at such a prestigious conference. The conference has over 6000 abstracts submitted and less than two per cent are accepted for oral presentation.

Matthew’s research investigates neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that make up 40 to 70 per cent of the white blood cells in the body and are the first to travel to the site of infection.

“We found that antibodies isolated from people living with HIV were able to activate neutrophils to engulf HIV-like particles and kill cells, and kill them faster than other white blood cells,” Matthew explained.

“The results show that neutrophils may play a part in the control of HIV infection and should be investigated further for their potential role in HIV vaccine development.”

PhD student Michelle Lee from Damian Purcell’s group presented a poster at the conference on her research focusing on new targets to wake up latent HIV. She said as a biomedical scientist, she never really appreciated the complexity of the disease and its far reaching influence on diverse aspects of humanity.

“This changed after my attendance of AIDS 2014 where people from all walks of life converged and shared their stories of the impact of HIV on their lives, all with the mutual desire to see the end of the epidemic,” she explained.

“My perspective of HIV and AIDS has changed - before it was simply a problem to solve – now I have a better understanding of the humanity behind the infection.”

Doherty Institute work accepted to AIDS 2016

Dr Renee van der Sluis, Talia Mota and Dr Hao Lu from the Lewin/Cameron Group and Michelle Lee from the Kent Group all had abstract accepted for poster sessions for their work looking at HIV latency and latency reversing agents. Talia presented her work at an oral poster session in the main conference.

Dr van der Sluis was also selected as a Rapporteur, contributing to daily summaries of each session she attended for the AIDS 2016 website.

Professor Damian Purcell presented a poster on his project developing a HIV prevention tool that was achieved by vaccinating cows through the duration of a pregnancy with a leading human HIV vaccine candidate. Vast quantities of the bovine antibody accumulates in the first colostrum milk that is harvested soon after calving. This new HIV prevention product is proceeding towards evaluation for clinical safety and efficacy.

Matthew Worley was invited to present his work investigating the part neutrophils play in HIV infection and their potential role in HIV vaccine development.