U transmits HIV into human tissues

Jerret Raffety

University researchers announced Monday they have successfully transmitted HIV into human tissues in the laboratory.

The reconstruction of sexual transmission has not been achieved previously in human tissues. The new experimental systems and analytical methods serve as a platform to understand mechanisms involved in HIV transmission.

Peter Southern, principal investigator and professor of microbiology, said his work has no impact at all on treatment but hopes that the research might contribute to understanding how to prevent HIV and AIDS.

The experiments to simulate sexual transmission of HIV were conducted with reproductive-tract tissue from young women and virus or seminal fluid from HIV-positive men, Southern said. The goal was to simulate the most common type of HIV infection, heterosexual men to women.

Using this model, researchers were able to observe virus and cell binding to female tissue surfaces and actual invasion of the virus into the tissue. Both events occurred rapidly and extensively, suggesting that any mechanism to reduce binding could protect against HIV transmission. 

Southern said he hopes to develop a microbicide to prevent new HIV infections one day.

Several major studies have used monkey models of HIV transmission research, but human tissue is the best way to study HIV infection, Southern said.

“This way, the research is looking directly to the human condition, allowing for more precise and accurate prevention,” he said.