Joel N. Blankson, MD, PhD
Our lab studies the natural control of HIV-1 infection. Less than 1% of all HIV-1 infected patients will maintain viral loads that are below the limit of detection without antiretroviral therapy. These patients, known as elite suppressors or elite controllers, may represent a model of a functional cure of HIV-1 infection. We have shown that some of these patients are infected with fully replication-competent virus that evolves slowly over time. Surprisingly we found that escape mutations are present in virtually all plasma isolates amplified from these patients. We are thus trying to determine how the immune system is capable of controlling viral replication in the face of immunologic escape. We also hope to determine whether it will be possible to induce protective responses in patients with progressive disease which could form the basis of a therapeutic vaccine.