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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Alexandra Taipale - Biochemistry

Alexandra TaipaleAlex Taipale came to the University of Washington from Colorado to study Biochemistry. She pursued her interest in research in Dr. Sarikaya’s Materials Science and Engineering lab and Dr. Yager’s Bioengineering lab. She finally found her passion for research when she began Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) research in Dr. Mullin’s Microbiology lab. During her time in the lab, she has worked on several different projects related to HIV-1 vaccine development. Her involvement in HIV research aroused her interest in HIV studies being performed with samples from female patients. Despite the fact that HIV-1 progresses differently in women than in men, there are far fewer HIV-1 studies conducted with female samples. Alex will spend her senior year studying HIV-1 evolutionary trends in female samples in order to make a comparison to the data generated in pre-existing male studies. After graduation, she hopes to continue her study of viral disease by pursuing a PhD in Microbiology or Biochemistry. Ultimately, Alex hopes to improve disease treatment and prevention through a career as a research scientist.

Mentor: James Mullins, Microbiology

Project Title: Sex Differences in Viral Evolutionary Trends Associated with the Progression of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Infection

Abstract: The effect of viral evolution on the duration of latent Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) infection has been studied extensively in men. The asymptomatic latency period, after HIV-1 infection and before the onset of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is characterized by high viral variability. In many cases, a viral phenotype that utilizes CXCR4 and/or CCR5 receptors on target host cells to advance HIV-1 progression also emerges during this period. Despite known sex-dependent variation in the progression of HIV-1, the effect of viral evolution and CXCR4/CCR5 utilizing virus (X4 virus) prevalence on HIV-1 latency has not yet been studied in women. I will investigate trends in viral evolution in 9 women from seroconversion to the development of AIDS. I will then compare my results to previously studied male viral evolutionary trends. Over the course of three quarters, a total of 72 blood plasma samples, an average of 8 samples from each woman collected progressively during the course of infection, will be used to generate 25-30 HIV-1 sequences per time point. These sequences will then be evaluated through 1) viral divergence from a founder strain 2) viral population diversity and 3) emergence and prevalence of X4 viruses. I will then analyze the effect of viral evolutionary trends and X4 virus prevalence on the duration of HIV-1 infection before the onset of AIDS. Ultimately, a comparison between the sexes will be made. Furthering the scientific communities’ knowledge of sex-related HIV-1 infection variation could lead to more effective sex-specific treatment and vaccine development. The important biological question of whether sex can influence HIV-1’s evolutionary path will be addressed.