Morehouse School of Medicine Public Health Research Program
During the summer of 2019, I was privileged to have been selected for the Summer Research and Public Health internship at the Morehouse School of Medicine where I worked with Dr. Vincent Bond and Dr. Ming Bo Huang in the HIV/AIDS research program. This is a major focus of research within the Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry & Immunology (MBI) at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Vincent Bond is the Professor and Chair of the MBI Dept. and Dr. Huang is the director of the Microvesicle Lab in the Biological Manipulation Core.
Dr. Bond is considered the Unsung Hero of the HIV Response in Atlanta. “From the 1980s into the ‘90s if you had HIV and did not have access to standard anti-retroviral treatment, this would have been a death sentence,” says Dr. Vincent Bond, Ph.D., reflecting on the early HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. He has studied HIV pathogenesis for more than 20 years. His ongoing research and studies on exosomes significantly contributing to immune activation and CD4 T-cell depletion has deciphered the mechanisms underlying HIV disease propagation. This research also has ramifications for other pathologies (cancer, bacterial pathogenesis), and has led to 40+ authored papers and 12 patents. Dr Bond has an accomplished record of productive research projects in an area of high relevance for national and global health. As his team continues to research the mechanisms underlying HIV disease, Dr Bond has established a biotechnology company to develop the therapeutic molecules identified for clinical use against HIV/AIDs and cancer. Dr Bond views this as the ultimate goal of scientists - to move discoveries into practical applications that address human disease burden.
During my internship, I researched the mechanisms of HIV disease progression and developed a scientific research poster - “Uptake Characterization of HIV-1 Nef Extracellular Vesicles by Jurkat Cells and THP-1 Monocytes”. I studied Nef protein exosomal release from HIV-infected cells that contributes to CD4 T-cell depletion. My research identified therapeutic targets for HIV/AIDS management through selection and design of exosomes specifically targeting the replication cycle which has promising potential for the development of more effective antiretroviral (ART) drug carriers in the future. My summer research was an inspirational opportunity to work with healthcare intellectuals of the stature of Dr. Bond and Dr. Huang who are at the cutting edge of new research development that tackles serious public health diseases.
HIV is the most recognized virus in the world. Approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today and about 14 percent of people (1 in 7) are unaware they are infected and need testing. An estimated 38,000 new HIV infections occur in the United States each year. After about 5 years of substantial declines, the number of annual HIV infections began to level off in 2013 at about 39,000 infections per year, with no further progress being made in disease reduction.
The CDC estimates that the decline in HIV infections has plateaued because effective HIV prevention and treatment are not adequately reaching those who could most benefit from them, and newer anti-retroviral drugs (ART) that target the virus at different stages of its life cycle are needed. At the present time, most drugs target viral suppression to keep viral load in infected patients contained. However, drugs that target the actual replication and killing of the virus are needed.
"Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America", was announced by the President in his State of the Union address on February 5, 2019 It is a bold approach to eliminate new HIV infections in our nation and is built upon the following key strategies or pillars:
• Diagnosing all individuals with HIV as early as possible. • Treating people with HIV rapidly and effectively to achieve sustained viral suppression. • Preventing new HIV transmissions by using proven interventions. • Responding quickly to potential HIV outbreaks to get needed prevention and treatment services to people who need them.
The goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in 5 years and by 90 percent in 10 years.
People with HIV have an increased risk for oral health problems because it weakens the immune system and makes it harder to fight off infections. Some of the most common oral problems for people with HIV/AIDS are: chronic dry mouth, gingivitis, bone loss around the teeth (periodontitis), canker sores, oral warts, fever blisters, oral candidiasis (thrush), hairy leukoplakia (which causes a rough, white patch on the tongue), and dental caries. With oral infections being so common among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) it is noted that between 32 and 46 percent of PLWHA will have at least one major HIV-related oral health problem - bacterial, viral, and fungal infection as well as cancer and ulcers - during the course of their disease. For many years, PLWHA have also reported high rates of unmet oral health care needs and low utilization of oral health services. When paired with weakened immune systems, lack of dental care puts many PLWHA at high risk for oral diseases and compromised well-being.
It is important for us to recognize the broad spectrum of oral infections and disease, and their link to medical disease and overall body health. A full body understanding and treatment is needed to tackle oral disease rates globally, rather than taking a localized approach. The mission of the three pillars of “Help a Child Smile” is – early awareness, intervention and prevention, and accessible and affordable oral healthcare for low-income communities because they consistently show 5x higher level of disease rates and disproportionate level of problems compared to affluent populations. "Help a Child Smile" is an easy replicable model for oral healthcare that cuts across socioeconomic classes and is highly effective in containing oral disease rates.