Infectious Disease


Creating a Video Game for HIV Prevention Among Young Black Women

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Lynn Fiellin, M.D.,Associate Professor, Internal Medicine & Kimberly Hieftje, Ph.D.,Associate Research Scientist, Internal Medicine

Taking advantage of contemporary technologies to communicate with and among young people, Drs. Hieftje and Fiellin will develop a prototype for a social media video designed to promote prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission among young black women (18 to 24 years old). This population has far higher rates of acquiring HIV and sexually transmitted infections than other young women. The investigators will conduct focus groups with young black women in New Haven to understand barriers to avoiding risk and how these women engage their friends and social networks to gain support for taking steps to reduce risk. Hieftje and Fiellin will then use this community input to create the prototype for a video game to increase HIV awareness, promote safe sex practices and encourage partner testing for HIV. The ultimate goal is to develop an appealing video game that young black women will play using a mobile device “app” or via computer download on a social network, making the game widely available to maximize public health benefit.
Akiko Iwasaki, Ph.D.

Akiko Iwasaki, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Immunobiology

Gender Differences in Infection and Immunity to Genital Herpes

Dr. Iwasaki investigates how viruses enter cells and how women combat virus infections with their immune systems. This work provides a basis for the design of preventive measures such as vaccines and anti-viral gels that could be tailored by gender. This funded study focused on the herpes simplex virus type 2, HSV-2, which causes genital herpes. This sexually transmitted disease is more common in women than men, and women suffer more severe symptoms.

Highlighted Study Findings

Dr. Iwasaki sought to identify the mechanism used by the virus to enter the genital tract of women. She found that one particular receptor or point of entry of this virus was highly present on the surface of the human vagina. Her research showed the importance of this receptor in genital herpes transmission. Her work demonstrated that it was possible to block the spread of the virus by either preventing the virus from entering the receptor or by altering the virus itself, by attaching an antibody to the virus membrane. These findings provide the practical groundwork for potentially developing a drug that can block the interaction of the virus and the receptor on the vaginal surface, thus preventing transmission of the virus and reducing the suffering brought on by this virus.


Developing Immune Therapy for Controlling Genital Herpes Outbreaks in Women

Genital herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), is a global health threat affecting a fifth of women worldwide and is more common in women than men. Currently, there is no cure and no therapy to prevent or control recurring symptoms or transmission of the virus, which can cause fatalities in children if transmitted from the mother during birth. In addition to a physical burden, women with the infection bear a social and emotional burden, as many feel they cannot marry or bear children as a result of this disease. Dr. Iwasaki will develop a two-step “prime and pull” intervention for controlling recurrence of the infection. In laboratory models, she will test a potential vaccine, designed to prevent initial onset of genital herpes, as a method in the first step to activate or “prime” anti-viral immune cells to combat already established genital herpes. These anti-viral cells will be recruited to the infection site in the second step via the use of a vaginal ring. The ring will be coated with particular proteins that will “pull” the anti-viral cells to the infection site to establish and prolong the cells’ presence for greater protective effect.

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Developing Immune Therapy for Controlling Genital Herpes Outbreaks in Women

Akiko Iwasaki, Ph.D.,Associate Professor of Immunobiology 

Genital herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), is a global health threat affecting a fifth of women worldwide and is more common in women than men. Currently, there is no cure and no therapy to prevent or control recurring symptoms or transmission of the virus, which can cause fatalities in children if transmitted from the mother during birth. In addition to a physical burden, women with the infection bear a social and emotional burden, as many feel they cannot marry or bear children as a result of this disease. Dr. Iwasaki will develop a two-step “prime and pull” intervention for controlling recurrence of the infection. In laboratory models, she will test a potential vaccine, designed to prevent initial onset of genital herpes, as a method in the first step to activate or “prime” anti-viral immune cells to combat already established genital herpes. These anti-viral cells will be recruited to the infection site in the second step via the use of a vaginal ring. The ring will be coated with particular proteins that will “pull” the anti-viral cells to the infection site to establish and prolong the cells’ presence for greater protective effect.