The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

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

09 Mar 2021

Meet the team: Associate Professor Thomas Rasmussen

Associate Professor Thomas Rasmussen is searching for an HIV cure. 

Can you introduce yourself and your role at the Doherty Institute?

I am an Associate Professor at University of Melbourne and Associate Clinical Director for HIV Cure Studies, based in the Lewin Lab. I am overseeing the clinical research we are doing in this area.  

What does a typical day at the Doherty Institute look like for you? 

Normally a mix of the following:

  • Meetings to coordinate research activities, analyse data, provide supervision and/or develop new studies 
  • Computer time: writing grant applications, study protocols, manuscripts etc 
  • Other activities: presentations, reviewing literature and papers etc 

Your work focuses on understanding and targeting HIV that persists with treatment. Can you explain what this means?

Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been tremendously successful for the treatment of HIV infection but there is no cure. The main barrier to a cure is the persistence of virus in a silent form in long-lived cells. Such latently infected cells are not cleared by the immune system and also unresponsive to ART. We need to figure out a way to clear this reservoir of HIV that persists on treatment in order to achieve a cure.

What are some of approaches that are being explored to tackle this problem? 

We are investigating therapeutic approaches to eliminate long-lived latently infected cells by using treatments that either boost the anti-HIV immune response or activates the dormant virus so that infected cells can be recognised by the immune system. We have tested these approaches both in the lab and in clinical trials.

What’s something you and/or your team have achieved that you are proud of? 

We recently completed a relatively large research effort to investigate the impact of cancer immunotherapy (anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4) on HIV persistence. This was possible due to access to unique samples from a multi-site clinical trial where people with HIV on ART received treatment with anti-PD-1 with or without anti-CTLA-4 for cancer. Our study was accepted for publication in Clinical Infectious Diseases late 2020.

If someone wants to be involved in a clinical trial for HIV, how do they go about that?

It is always a good idea to check with the health care staff at the clinic where they are receiving HIV treatment and care. Currently recruiting studies are also kept up to date at the website: http://hivcure.com.au

Treatment for HIV has come a long way, but there is still no cure. Are you hopeful that we might achieve one in your lifetime? 

Yes, I definitely am! But considering research findings over the last decade, it is clear that this will not be easy and impossible to put a realistic timeline on.

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