HIV vaccine researchers using Canadian Light Source at USask uncover problematic protein

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A professor at the University of Toronto is using the Canadian Light Source to research HIV and investigate the key proteins in hopes of understanding how it works – May 28, 2022

Dr. Jonathan Cook is investigating key HIV proteins that are integral to developing a vaccine.

Resident physician at the Sunnybrook Health Centre with the University of Toronto, his team is working with the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to analyze outer proteins on the virus en route to developing a vaccine.

The CLS describes itself as one of the largest science projects in Canada’s history, producing the brightest light in the country—millions of times brighter than even the sun. This national research facility, based at the University of Saskatoon, invites scientists from around the world to utilize it in their research.

With the help of the CLS, Cook’s research team discovered one area of protein that acts as a decoy to divert the immune system’s response to a false target, enabling HIV to infiltrate a person’s cells.

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“We’ve now been able to determine the mechanism of, or I should say, it’s an additional mechanism, a new mechanism of HIV, immune evasion and we’ve been able to pinpoint it to a precise molecular shape that covers the virus itself,” said Cook.

“Viruses are very good about trying to disguise themselves so that the body can’t recognize them and in this case HIV is doing something very unique,” Dean Lang, CLS Associate Scientist.

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Cook and his colleagues want their research to become a basis for vaccine design.

“Using the new tools that we have in the toolbox to try and come up with new solutions to this 40-year-old problem,” said cook.

By doing this through the Canadian Light Source, they’re able to properly analyze the samples.

“Without the light that we can produce here, we would never be able to get to the level of detail that we’re able to observe,” said Lang.

Cooks next step is using this information to try and come up with a new vaccine solution.


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