Do Communities Have to Concern Themselves with Basic Science?

March 2, 2015

This post was written by Morenike Folayan, Coordinator of the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society and member of the CROI Community Liaison Subcommittee.

Once again, I sat intrigued by the science discussed at the CROI conference. I wonder at the ‘magic’ of unraveling gene sequences and other molecular research and how the scientists find these things out. But I also see that by listening to them each year, I kind of get the gist of what they say.

On the 23rd of February 2015, I listened to Guido Silvestri who spoke about animal models and HIV prevention cure research. I learned about the types of animals used for HIV prevention studies.

As many of us may know, animal studies are required prior to testing of study products in humans. This is known as the pre-clinical trials. Many times, the pre-clinical trials are conduct in both small (rodents) and big (non-rodents) animal models.

For HIV research, the big animal model—non-human primates—had always been used for studying HIV infection. These include the Macaque monkey and the Rhesus Monkey. They are highly genetically similar to humans. They are also able to acquire SIV, which is similar to HIV infection in some ways but not in all ways.

(Editor’s Note: For as long as non-human primates have been used in HIV research, there have been discussions about what the model can and cannot do. Efficacy in monkeys doesn’t predict protection in humans; lack of efficacy may or may not signal that product isn’t worth moving forward—for any given “go/no go” decision on moving a product from animals to clinical trials in humans, there may be strong opinions on all sides.)

More recently, rodents are now been used for HIV research. These are humanised mice. They carry functioning human genes, cells, tissue and or organs. It is therefore possible to study the how HIV interacts with human tissues using mice.

These humanised mice could be BLT humanised mice (they have the most functional immune system) or PMBC-humanised mice (which allows for short term studies of human T cells without having to wait for maturation of the T cells).

Interestingly however are the small animal models that are used for HIV research are humanised mice. For one, there is a lot to learn about curing HIV infection through the use of humanised mice.

Do communities have to concern themselves with animal studies? I think we do. Some of us may need to learn about these basic research issues, learn about the animal models used for HIV research and question their appropriateness and the interpretation of the results generated from these studies. Doing this may further stretch our work as community monitors of HIV prevention research. I think this stretch is in the right direction.