World Aids Day is Dec. 1
Assistant Professor Melanie Nicol studies how the drugs used to treat HIV work in tissues like the gut, genitals and the brain.
“We have a pretty good idea how the virus in the blood responds to drugs, but what is happening in the tissues is not as clear,” she said. “This lack of understanding may be part of the reason we have not yet been able to cure HIV.”
She has ongoing clinical studies in both Minnesota and in Kampala, Uganda characterizing factors that modify drug exposure in the female genital tract. She is also currently working on developing lab models using tissues from the female genital tract to test the efficacy of different drugs to protect the tissues from HIV infection.
“It is my hope that this will lead to a successful therapy that women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection,” she said. “This is particularly important in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa where women are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic.”
She is also working with colleagues in the U’s Medical School and the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda to explore the use of tissues collected during autopsy to look at the distribution of antiviral drugs in the brain.
“Understanding which parts of the brain the drug is concentrating in, relative to where the virus is replicating, will hopefully improve HIV treatment and reduce the CNS complications that often arise from HIV infection,” she said.