Paige Gruenke

PhD Candidate, Department of Biochemistry

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), and HIV/AIDS has been a major epidemic for the last 40 years. A lot of research has been done on HIV, and viral inhibitor drugs have been developed that allow people infected with HIV to live a mostly normal life. However, there is still much to be learned about HIV biology and no known cure for HIV.

The goal of my research is to better understand the roles of HIV’s capsid within the HIV life cycle. The capsid is a protein shell that holds HIV’s genetic material and viral proteins required for viral replication. The capsid has been shown to be involved in almost every step of the HIV life cycle, from when the virus first infects a cell to when new virions are made to infect new cells. There are currently no FDA-approved drugs that target the HIV capsid. In my research I am using special molecular tools called aptamers evolved to bind to the capsid lattice surface. Aptamers are DNA or RNA sequences that bind to its target tightly and specifically, like how two puzzle pieces connect. By seeing how HIV infection is affected in the presence of the capsid-binding aptamers, we can answer these questions about capsid’s roles within the HIV life cycle and potentially identify sites for capsid-targeting drugs.

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