Our research group has several objectives :
The first objective is a better understanding of resistance to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), although these considerably alter the prognosis of the disease. At the moment the HIV infection cannot be cured.
The AIDS Reference Laboratory (ARL) is active in monitoring the transmission of drug resistance. In collaboration with the other Belgian LRS and the Scientific Institute of Public Health (ISP), our team described a large group of transmission of a strain resistant to INNRTI (non-nucleoside reverse transciptase inhibitors) and more recently; an F1 subtype epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM). The ARL of the UCL is part of the council of the Belgian administration of ESAR "European Society for Translational Antiviral Research" and collaborates in monitoring the spread of drug resistance in Europe. The recent use of intergrase inhibitors (INSTIs) in the treatment of HIV-infected persons has led to a program of monitoring the transmission of potential resistance. Jointly, the analysis of the impact of natural genetic polymorphisms on the effectiveness of ARVs is currently being studied in national and international collaborations. The laboratory is also involved in a project in a rural setting in South Africa initiated by pediatricians at the St-Luc University Clinics. The prevalence of ARV resistance in infants infected with HIV at birth is being studied in order to establish better indications for their treatment.
Several projects aim with the aim to cure the disease require specific laboratory tools that are not yet available for the clinical routine. To this end, we focus in particular on the detection of residual viremia on the treatment and its clinical impact by validating ultra-sensitive methods such as digital PCR.
In recent years, the ARL has become the reference for HIV-2 in Belgium and Luxembourg for both research and laboratory testing related to clinical monitoring. The laboratory coordinates clinical data for international collaboration AcHIeV2e and participates in the development of genotypic interpretation rules for ARV resistance (HIV-2 EU).
The second objective is to try to improve healing strategies by focusing on cellular restriction factors. The laboratory currently focuses on an antiviral restriction factor that interfere with viral replication and in particular on the interaction between a viral envelope glycoprotein (gpTM) and the BST-2 cellular protein also known as tetherin, interfering with the release of virion. Site-directed mutagenesis, viral replication and protein interaction studies are performed in the laboratory. In addition, our research aims to identify genetic variability within the bst-2 gene. The results should relate to patient history, viral load and to classify according to the evolution of the disease (Progressors or not).