Donald Sodora, Ph.D.

Professor, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute
Affiliate Associate Professor, Department of Global Health, University of Washington
Area of Expertise: HIV/AIDS, immunology, vaccinology

Don Sodora and his colleagues are working to understand how HIV enters the body and eventually causes AIDS. His long-term goal is to apply the knowledge gained from his studies to the development of new therapies and vaccines for HIV-infected patients.

Research

Sodora’s research is focused on correlates of protection against HIV and HIV-induced disease, for which he utilizes the SIV monkey model systems. His three areas of research include assessing monkey species, called sooty mangabeys, which do not become clinically ill when infected with SIV; determining immunologic factors that influence oral transmission of HIV/SIV; and developing therapeutics to assist in the recovery of the immune system in SIV infected monkeys treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The first area of research focuses on utilizing the SIV/monkey model to enable an assessment of progression to simian AIDS, which occurs at different rates in different monkey species. For example, sooty mangabeys, a monkey species endemic to West Africa, are SIV infected in the wild and are therefore a natural host. There is evidence that HIV in humans began as a cross-species transmission event when SIV in naturally infected monkeys or chimpanzees passed to humans. The SIV infection of mangabeys represents a riddle in HIV/SIV pathogenesis as the virus replicates to high levels; however, mangabeys generally do not show clinical signs of simian AIDS and have relatively stable CD4 T-cell numbers. The Sodora lab has uncovered important insights into the means by which mangabeys remain free of simian AIDS. One ongoing project involves assessing how the mangabey immune cells respond to opportunistic pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The lab's long-term goal is to utilize these findings to identify new therapeutic approaches and to uncover novel approaches for developing vaccines that prevent disease progression in HIV infected patients.

Sodora’s research also focuses on the oral transmission of HIV/SIV, which can occur during mother-to-child transmission (via breast milk), as well as oral-genital transmission (via semen). His research focuses on the viral events that occur during the first few days post-infection, specifically viral entry and spread. His lab is also focusing on assessing the innate and adaptive immune responses that are triggered through the oral application and subsequent infection of SIV. The long-term goal of this research is to identify the immune changes at the site of transmission that impact the frequency of a successful transmission and to utilize the findings to aid in the development of an HIV vaccine designed to prevent mucosal transmission of HIV.

Themes

  • HIV events during early infection
  • HIV animal models
  • HIV induced immune dysfunction
  • HIV immune therapy

Sodora’s research is currently supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).