Viruses are Sneaky

Beth Kenkel – Research Scientist @UW / @fredhutch researching HSV & HIV.

Stories_insci Stories_insci on July 22, 2018

Beth Kenkel

In less than 200 words, what main research questions are you working on? Please make sure to first include a brief context and background to your research, articulate your question(s) and conclude with why you think it’s important to study the them (i.e., the potential broader impacts).
Viruses are sneaky, often hiding in hard-to-find places. I study a particularly sneaky virus: HIV. HIV inserts its DNA into the DNA of T-cells, the cells that help fight infections. Then HIV goes into stealth-mode to avoid detection by the body’s immune system or kills the T-cell it infiltrated. While current treatments keep the virus in check, they don’t destroy its DNA. My research focuses on using an ‘assassin’ protein called Cas9 to seeks out and destroy HIV’s DNA. When given a ‘mugshot’ of HIV’s DNA, Cas9 hunts down and cuts this DNA, but it must be an accurate depiction so that Cas9 only cuts HIV’s DNA. To help deploy Cas9 to all of HIV’s hideouts, Cas9 is put inside of an adeno-associated virus (AAV). It’s odd to use one virus against another, but unlike HIV, AAV doesn’t make people sick and is good at delivering proteins to cells. AAV, however, can miss its target sometimes, but changing the outside of AAV can increase its accuracy at finding T-cells. Hopefully, this ‘trojan-horse’ method will contribute to a cure for HIV.

Follow Beth on twitter @elizabethkenkel and Instagram @molbiobeth.