Immunobiosensor-Based Analysis of Antigen-Specific B-Cell and Plasmablast Responses during HIV-1 Infection

The study of the cellular basis of antibody-mediated immunity in infection is an exciting, emerging field of research that has profound implications for our understanding of host-virus interactions, protective immunity and HIV vaccine design. Antibodies are proteins that are produced by plasma cells and bind to molecules on the surface of invading pathogens, flagging them for destruction. Research in the field of HIV/AIDS has shown that antibodies, which neutralize a broad range of HIV isolates in test tubes, also protect animals from HIV-like pathogens, such as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). Thus, there has been a concerted effort to design vaccines that elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies targeting HIV. HIV-infected people rarely produce protective antibodies against a broad range of viral variants; this is of great concern to those attempting to produce a vaccine. Currently, there is no way of isolating the blood plasma cells that produce and secrete antibodies against a particular molecule or pathogen (antigen).

Dr. Naveed Gulzar's research involves an innovative approach to identify single, live HIV-specific plasma cells whose secreted antibodies bind proteins associated with HIV. He is working with a multidisciplinary team to develop an immunobiosensor that will allow him to locate single cells that secrete HIV-specific antibodies from thousands of antibody-secreting cells from the blood of HIV-infected people, and to isolate them for subsequent analyses. His goal will be to characterize the antibody response against HIV envelope proteins, and see how these change during the course of infection. The genes encoding these antibodies will be analyzed and their features compared. The results may provide new insights into our understanding of the immune response against HIV infection.

Dr. Gulzar's team includes Dr. Jamie Scott and several different analytical chemistry, physics and engineering research groups at Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, along with Cangene, a Canadian industrial partner. They anticipate that by understanding the genetic and cellular features associated with antibodies that neutralize a broad range of viral variants, they will be able to better inform the design of an HIV vaccine that elicits broadly neutralizing antibodies.