Conquering HIV

21 Sep

HIV – the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS – was first recognized more than 30 years ago. But today there is still no cure and no vaccine for the virus.

Louis Mansky (MS ’86 microbiology, PhD ’90) has spent much of his career trying to understand how and why HIV evolves and mutates.

“My lab is primarily focused on looking at HIV evolution and how it relates to developing drug resistance,” he explained. “We’re trying to develop therapeutic strategies” to conquer the disease.

Louis got his start in plant virus research at Iowa State. He switched his focus to human virology, working first at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then at The Ohio State University. He’s been the director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis since 2003.

“What’s rare about [HIV] is that we can’t cure it,” Louis says. “We can now treat it as a chronic long-term infection, but you’re infected for life. No vaccines are available.

“We have a population of HIV-infected people who could live long lives. With that, we’ve come to see accelerated aging and high risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurological diseases. They are at a higher risk of pretty much everything.”

On top of that, Louis says people in this country are starting to take greater risks and increasing the rate of infection because suddenly “HIV is not a death sentence.”

In addition to HIV/AIDS, Institute for Molecular Virology researchers study the herpes virus, Avian and pandemic flu, SARS, West Nile Virus, and other areas of research.

Louis and his wife, Kim, a professor at the University of Minnesota, have three children: Rachel, Sarah, and Joshua. Smiling photos of the kids are posted throughout his office — even on bookshelves filled with books on virology.

Louis laughs. “I’m the connection between happy kids and scary viruses.”

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