Imtiaz A. Khan, M.D., professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, received a $1.6 million federal grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the effects of microsporidia-opportunistic inter-cellular pathogens-that cause morbidity and mortality in HIV patients.
Fifteen years ago, Khan saw that this type of infection was becoming a major problem in HIV populations. He realized little had been researched about immune response to these pathogens. After looking into the matter further, he saw that CD8+ T cells played a critical role in protecting against these pathogens.
His project, titled "CD8+ T cell effectors against microsporidia," will study how to prevent microsporidia from causing complications in immunocompromised subjects by regulating CD8+ T cells. These highly understudied cells are tolerated and controlled in healthy, immunocompetent individuals. For the elderly or individuals with HIV, these cells can cause problems. In order to stave off infection for the immunocompromised, the cells need to be maintained and regenerated.
"The question is, how can you generate CD8 effectively, so this infection does not harm them?" said Khan. "Because CD8+ T cells are critical, how can you maintain a good CD8 cell population, so this group of pathogens doesn't reemerge?"
Khan and his research team will be using cytokines and other therapeutic methods to generate highly functional CD8+ T cells to create and maintain robust immunity against these pathogens, improving the mortality and quality of life of many HIV patients.
This research may not only benefit those suffering from microspordia, but can be extended to other infections effecting HIV populations, as well.