Know the enemy
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is the virus that leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Most of our listeners have likely heard about HIV/AIDS because it has been reported in the news since the 1980s, but our listeners might not be familiar with the virus’s biology and treatments that target the virus.
- HIV follows an infection cycle with these main stages:
- Attachment – the virus binds to a host cell
- Fusion – the viral wall fuses with the membrane of the host cell and genetic material from the virus enters the host cell
- Reverse transcription – RNA from the virus is converted into DNA via viral enzymes
- Integration – viral DNA joins the genome of the host cell
- Reproduction – the viral DNA hijacks the host cell activity to produce more viruses and the cycle continues
- Drug treatments target different stages in the HIV infection cycle to slow down infection
- However, HIV has adapted to allow mistakes to occur during the reverse transcription stage such that spontaneous mutations change the virus within the host individual, and the virus becomes tolerant to drug treatments over time.
Due to the highly mutable nature of HIV, a constant supply of new drug treatments are necessary to fend off resistance and treat infection. Our guest this week on Inspiration Dissemination, Ross Overacker a PhD candidate in Organic Chemistry, is screening a library of natural and synthetic compounds for their antiviral activity and effectiveness at disrupting HIV. Ross works in a Natural Products Lab under the direction of Dr. Sandra Loesgen. There, Ross and his lab mates (some of whom were on the show recently  ) test libraries of compounds they have extracted from fungi and bacteria for a range of therapeutic applications. Ross is currently completing his analysis of a synthetic compound that shows promise for interrupting the HIV infection cycle.
Havin’ a blast
Chemistry Club at Washington State University (WSU) initially turned Ross onto chemistry. The club participated in education outreach by presenting chemistry demonstrations at local high schools and club events. Ross and other students would demonstrate exciting chemistry demos such as filling hydrogen balloons with salt compounds resulting in colorful explosions piquing the interest of students and community members alike. Ross originally made a name in
WSU’s chemistry club, eventually becoming the president, by showing off a “flaming snowball” and tossing it from hand to hand—don’t worry he will explain this on air. For Ross, chemistry is a complicated puzzle that once you work out, all of the pieces fall into place. After a few undergraduate research projects, Ross decided that he wanted to continue research by pursing a PhD in Organic Chemistry at Oregon State University.