Dr Amin S. Hassan



Dr Amin S. Hassan, KEMRI/Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, Kenya
Viral evolution and innate responses during acute HIV-1 infection and their association with disease pathogenesis

Dr Amin S. HassanDespite the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy, HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Africa. In 2007, I set up a HIV/AIDS longitudinal surveillance aimed at describing characteristics and outcomes of HIV-infected individuals in a rural district hospital in Coastal Kenya. Data from our surveillance suggests substantial variations in the rate of disease progression and treatment outcomes, which maybe explained, in part, by immunological and virologic events occurring at the very early stages of infection, termed acute HIV-1 infection (AHI).

Thus, characterization of innate immune responses during AHI, how this shapes viral evolution and their effect on disease progression would increase our understanding of HIV-1 pathogenesis. Relating specific innate responses to viral evolution would also further our understanding of vaccine-elicited immunity and may have implications for therapeutic and prophylactic vaccine design.

To do this, our current project will retrieve archived data and samples from independent acute HIV-1 infection studies from sites in Africa and Europe. The samples will be used to measure innate immune responses and characterize viral evolutionary parameters using advanced molecular methods.

The proposed lab work will be carried out within the network of collaborating sites in Africa and Europe, including the well-established HIV molecular lab at Lund University in Sweden. Our collaborator at Lund University has extensive expertise in viral evolution work and a long-standing experience in organizing workshops and trainings in advanced phylogenetic analysis.

The AREF Fellowship offers an excellent opportunity for me to spend some time with our collaborator at Lund University to acquire hands on training and skills in advanced HIV-1 molecular methods. I will use data and results from these analyses to generate additional research questions, which will subsequently be put into use to develop award winning grant applications.

After the Fellowship, knowledge and skills acquired will be transferred back to my parent organization in Kilifi, Kenya, and implemented in new and follow up projects. This capacity will also be shared more formally through research internships, mentorships and mainstream academic modules in local institutions of higher learning. In the long term, this fellowship will contribute significantly towards shaping my research career and achieving my ambition of developing into a strong HIV/AIDS research scientist in Africa.