Could clues to the cure for HIV come from studies of cats? A team
of scientists in the Department of Microbiology, Pathology and Parasitology
in NC States College of Veterinary Medicine think they might.
Drs. Mary and Wayne Tompkins, Gregg Dean and Mary Jo Burkhard make
up a world-renowned National Institutes of Health-funded research
team studying Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a member of the
HIV virus family. The research Drs. Tompkins, Burkhard and Dean, along
with eight graduate students, are conducting will not only provide
important knowledge for prevention and treatment of a major cat disease,
but also help develop a vaccine and other therapies that might transition
to human medicine.
What most people understand about HIV is that the carrier of
the virus experiences a loss of a cell population called T-cells.
These cells are necessary to initiate an immune response to protect
individuals against infectious agents, explains Mary Tompkins.
If you dont have many T-cells, then you will have trouble
mounting an immune response to any harmful germs. HIV slowly wipes
out the infected persons T-cells. Eventually, its impossible
to fight off any illnesses.
|FIV-infected cats go through the same sort of disease
syndromes as humans with HIV. Unlike HIV, which was most likely contracted
from monkeys, FIV is a naturally occurring infection in cats. This
means that the virus has been in the cat population for many years.
As with humans, symptoms may be delayed for years. The main difference
between HIV and FIV is the method of transmission. In general, FIV
transmission occurs through bite wounds, not through sexual contact.
(FIV cannot be transmitted to humans.)
Burkhard has developed a model of FIV transmission in vaginal mucosa
of cats and is researching the cells harboring and transmitting the
virus in their oral, vaginal and rectal mucosa. Her search for a way
to interrupt the transmission of FIV in mucosa could lead to a method
of stopping HIV- positive mothers from infecting their babies during
birth and nursing.
Viral genome research done by the FIV team is essential to discovering
more about the transmission of viruses. Through partnerships with
Triangle-area companies AlphaVax and Trimeris, as well as multinational
companies such as Fort Dodge Laboratories, Schering Plough and Pfizer,
NC States FIV research has become a very important component
of HIV/AIDS research. We must understand the genomics of pathogens
in order to discover cures for disease, explains Dr. Gregg Dean.
Coaxing immune systems to respond to pathogens is key to creating
a vaccine for FIV and HIV.
Wayne Tompkins summarizes, A major current focus of our research
is to determine how FIV/HIV infection destroys the T-cell immune system.
As we unravel the mystery of how these viruses impair the immune system
and cause AIDS, we will be in a stronger position for designing vaccines
to prevent the diseases, as well as therapeutic modalities to treat
more information, please visit http://www.cvm.ncsu.edu/