Sheena Banks, McMurry class of 2006, presented aspects of her graduate research on HIV Mediated CD4+ Cell Depletion. Ms. Banks completed a Master’s degree in Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and currently works as a Research Associate at the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Abilene, Texas.
An understanding of the retroviral replication process is very important in the successful treatment of HIV. The HIV virus infects a variety of immune cells expressing a surface protein receptor called CD4. These cells are central to the immune system’s mounting a specific response to a variety of infections, and their destruction effectively renders the patient void of a functioning immune system. Many times, treatment appears to be successful for a time, but later AIDS develops as the body is compromised by secondary infections. HIV infected cells persist in the body through a variety of mechanisms–latent periods with a resurgence and rapid mutation rates that render specific immune responses to foreign agents incapable of reining in and defeating an HIV infection.
Sheena worked on a project using mice to find ways to encourage infected cells to “home”, or seek the lymph nodes where they might undergo apoptosis – the natural cell death process used to remove damaged cells from the body. During the course of an HIV infection, CD4 cells migrate from the blood to lymph nodes, where 90-95% are destroyed by infection. The fate of the remaining 5-10% CD4-bearing cells was not known. Her work determined that these cells are actually T-regulatory cells whose role is to slow down the immune response once an infection is over and to recruit CD4 cells to lymph nodes. She found that the presence of T-regulatory cells promoted an environment within the lymph nodes that favored HIV proliferation, rather than apoptosis – normal programmed cell death processes that remove damaged cells from the body. Such a ”sorting out” of the roles and activities of T-regulatory and CD4 cells
during the course of an HIV infection is an important step in finding new strategies for treatments vs. HIV infections, something Sheena says is the goal of HIV researchers right now.
Sheena graciously fielded a great many diverse questions on HIV infections and research, and offered McMurry students opportunities to work in the labs at TTU School of Pharmacy-Abilene – participating in research on cancer, viral infections, developmental biology, and many other ongoing projects guided by TTUSOP faculty.
By popular demand, BIMS is adding a microbiology course for non-majors. In actuality, this is not a new course at all, but one that was taught for several years and then dropped because of staffing issues – there was nobody available to teach the course. Now, with Dr. Wilson returning to full-time teaching after years as the Natural & Computational Sciences dean, that problem is a thing of the past. BIOL 3403 Foundations of Microbiology returns to the catalog and will be taught in spring semesters and during summers.
BIOL 3403 is geared toward health professions where an understanding of basic microbiology and its impact on health is essential. Its counterpart for BIMS majors – BIOL 3410 – provides a greater exposure to the biology and physiology and genetics of microbes. Mineral cycling and the biology of the Archaebacteria (methane production, growth at extremes of temperature and salinity) and Cyanobacteria (photosynthesis) are clearly important to a biology major – not nearly so to someone who is pursuing an allied health career. BIOL 3403 is likely to have a greater emphasis on microbes posing health risks and how they can be avoided or destroyed in a healthcare setting. Antibiotics, immunity, and safe water and food are more likely to dominate discussions on a regular basis. By providing direction and focus to the two courses, the non-majors course can be effectively taught without the extensive pre-requisites in previous biology and chemistry courses expected for the majors course. The BIMS program sees the two courses as a welcomed response to the needs of two very different populations of students and allows the instructors to tailor their courses to the needs and interests of each. At this time, it looks like Dr. Wilson will teach BIOL 3410 and Dr. Benoit will teach the new course, BIOL 3403.
Just another example of the responsiveness of BIMS to the needs of students!