Lishomwa Ndhlovu

The laboratory of University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa Associate Professor Lishomwa Ndhlovu, has been awarded two new grants from the National Institutes of Health, including prestigious R01 level funding, to advance his strategy to cure HIV.

The new awards to Ndhlovu, of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Department of Tropical Medicine and Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS, comes on the heels of the discovery his lab, in collaboration with the Maunakea lab, published this month in Nature Scientific Reports. The researchers located an epigenetic footprint for brain related problems in HIV infected persons. The Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS, also launched its Hawaiʻi 2 Zero initiative in 2015 to raise funds to prevent new infections and find an HIV cure.

“We are excited with funding for these studies as it builds on our recent work on HIV and the impact on the brain and is line with our Hawaiʻi 2 Zero Initiative,” said Ndhlovu.

Eliminating HIV-infected cells

With these new grants in hand, Ndhlovu will seek to facilitate the elimination of HIV-infected cells that persist despite anti-HIV drugs by flushing the virus out of its hiding place and trying to poison the virus on its way out. An alternate approach he is testing is to clear the virus by restoring the disabled immune system killing function.

“We propose to achieve this through a concerted study of a novel immune regulatory pathways that when blocked restores T cell function capable of depleting latently HIV infected T cells,” he explained.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease is funding the new grant (R21AI122393-01). The National Institute of Mental Health has also awarded the Ndhlovu lab a multi-principal investigator R01 grant (R01MH112457-01) with Satish Pillai from the Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco, on the “Effects of Human Galectin-9 on the CNS HIV Reservoir.”

“While the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has significantly decreased the morbidity and mortality associated with HIV infection, the virus is never completely eliminated from the body of the infected individual, necessitating lifelong drug treatment,” said Ndhlovu. “The central nervous system (CNS) in particular is an important sanctuary site for the virus during ART, due to the relative lack of antiviral immune surveillance in the CNS and poor penetration of many antiretroviral drugs across the blood-brain barrier. In this project, we investigate the ability of a to control and clear virus in the CNS compartment, with the ultimate goal of utilizing this protein as a tool to cure HIV infection.”