We are investigating how retroviruses such as HIV infect and multiply inside cells so that we can understand them better and develop more effective antiviral treatments.
Viruses are tiny particles made of genetic material packed inside a coat made of protein and fat, which can only survive by infecting larger animal, plant or bacterial cells. Once inside, they hijack the cellular machinery in order to make many copies of themselves. These new particles are released from the cell and can infect new hosts, spreading the infection.
Some viruses, known as retroviruses, insert their own genetic material into the host’s genome as part of their normal replication process, leading to long-term, chronic infection. Retroviruses cause severe diseases including cancer, but the best-known retrovirus is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which infects immune cells and causes AIDS.
More than 36 million people around the world are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and although there are now effective drugs that can hold HIV at bay for many years, it is not yet possible to completely cure or prevent the infection. And there is still much we do not know about exactly how retroviruses infect host cells.
To find out more, we are studying the role of different viral proteins and other molecules inside the cell that help to promote infection. We also study the natural anti-viral defenses of the host. Knowing more about the processes at work as retroviruses infect cells will lead us towards new ideas for antiviral drugs that could help to eradicate HIV and make a major impact on human health.