Globe and Mail: Stocking the toolbox for HIV prevention and control
It was a surprising observation for a team of researchers studying sexually transmitted diseases among prostitutes in a Nairobi slum in the early 1990s: Despite being continuously exposed to HIV through unprotected intercourse with myriad partners, a small number of the women appeared to be resistant to the deadly virus.
For Keith Fowke, a University of Manitoba graduate student with the group who would later write his PhD thesis on the topic, it was the start of a journey that appears to be yielding a weapon in the fight to prevent AIDS. At root was the finding that those female sex workers in the Pumwani slum were apparently protected by inactive immune cells in the genital tract, preventing HIV infection.
Today, as head of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Manitoba and a visiting scientist at the University of Nairobi, much of Dr. Fowke’s research has focused on the interaction between HIV and the immune system. A key conclusion involves the importance of “immune quiescence,” the somewhat counterintuitive finding that “if you have immune cells in the genital tract that are resting and HIV comes into contact with them, it is not able to establish an infection in those cells.”
Dr. Fowke is currently studying a relatively safe, cheap and available anti-inflammatory substance that can have a quietening effect on these immune cells and reduce the risk of HIV transmission: Aspirin.
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