After finding a gap in HIV research, one Curtin Professor is gaining attention by developing real applications for her research into cases of HIV and cytomegalovirus (CMV) co-infection in Asia.
Professor Patricia Price has been leading the charge into understanding the pathological effects of CMV – a common virus that is relatively benign to healthy individuals, but far more severe for those who have weakened immune systems – in individuals who have contracted HIV.
“If an HIV patient stays untreated and gets AIDS, then they will most certainly have CMV and that will send them blind,” Professor Price says.
Since beginning her research in Asia in 2008, Professor Price has designed and run studies addressing co-infection with HIV and other viruses in a developing world setting, where co-infection frequently occurs.
“The work I do in Asia comes from the fact that we invest an awful lot of time and energy into understanding the diseases of the developed world, but many medical problems in the developing world are underemphasised in Australia,” she says.
Professor Price’s current project, called JakCCANDO (Jakarta CMV, Cardiovascular, Antiretroviral, Neuropathy, Dental, Ophthalmology), is based in Jakarta and has been organised in collaboration with the University of Indonesia. The project examines 82 HIV patients, testing their oral health, neurocognitive status, cardiovascular system and retinal health as they respond to antiretroviral therapy. The aim of the project is to detect CMV reactivation in HIV patients and to compare the state of their immune systems to healthy individuals.
Aside from her work on JakCCANDO, Professor Price collaborates with the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, sharing information about the development of neuropathy in HIV patients. This parallels her work in Indonesia, which looks at how HIV and CMV alter neurocognitive capacity and neuropathic pain.
In each of her projects, Professor Price works closely with research students. She is particularly interested in mentoring Indonesian doctors and scientists who want to work in collaboration with the group at Curtin. During their visits to Curtin, these students would learn a series of laboratory tests by working on Australian samples and then they would perform the same tests on Indonesian samples.
“I see part of my role as mentoring young scientists and teaching them the skills to take the research to the next stage,” she says.
“The way I go about all of my research is through a philosophy that the first thing you do is make friends, and then you work out what to research. So for any student that joins us, they will be joining a family.”
Professor Price’s JakCCANDO study will continue for 3–4 years. She hopes that the research will bring about medical and cultural applications for people living with HIV.