In Giavedoni’s laboratory, particular attention is given to the role and function of cytokines, molecules that mediate communication between the immune system and the whole organism. His research group has been developing technology for the identification of cytokines in nonhuman primates and also studying the potential use of these molecules to modify the outcome of immune responses.
Ongoing projects in AIDS vaccine development in Giavedoni’s laboratory use the rhesus macaque/simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) model. One such collaborative project includes the use of nanoparticle technology to deliver SIV genetic material to mucosal surfaces of the macaques. This vaccination was able to prime the immune system so that animals reacted with stronger immune responses when they were boosted with a second vaccine that consisted of a viral vector expressing the same genetic material included in the first vaccine. When the vaccinated monkeys were exposed to an infectious SIV, half of the animals resisted infection. These very encouraging results will be repeated in a larger and more controlled study.
Another AIDS-related project also involves nanoparticle technology, but in this case the particles carry small nucleic acids that are designed to bind and inactivate the viral genome within infected cells. Giavedoni’s laboratory has identified four different molecules that can inhibit SIV replication, which would reduce the chances for viral escape.
A third project involves the creation of novel vaccines based in chimeric proteins that can simultaneously induce and stimulate an immune response. These chimeric proteins are composed of one of the SIV glycoproteins fused to a protein used by cells of the immune system to increase antibody production. A couple of these chimeric proteins have been shown to have the capacity to stimulate macaque cells.
In collaboration with scientists from the Department of Genetics, Giavedoni’s lab is trying to identify the mechanisms that allow certain monkey species to resist natural infection with SIV; it is believed that understanding these mechanisms may lead to new therapeutics treatments for HIV-infected individuals.
Finally, the Immunology Core Laboratory of the Southwest National Primate Research Center, led by Giavedoni, also supports other investigators by providing flow cytometry, luminex, and genotyping assays for several nonhuman primate species. It also participates in the National Institutes of Health Nonhuman Primate Reagent Resource. All these services have provided critical help to scientists who perform research with nonhuman primates at the SNPRC.