Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, is a long way from Hanover, New Hampshire, but because of the world-class research collaboration between Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Emmanuel Balandya, MD has made that long trek to pursue his keen interest in finding better ways to combat AIDS. With an estimated 33 million people currently living with HIV infection worldwide and 2.7 million new infections each year, this is a laudable pursuit.
Balandya is a trained physician (finishing at the top of his class) and a member of the faculty at MUHAS. He has seen firsthand the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. Because of his excellence as a student and physician, Emmanuel was selected to represent MUHAS at Dartmouth as a short-term scholar in 2008. During this stint at Dartmouth, Balandya decided to apply to the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine (PEMM) to earn a PhD. He was accepted in 2008 and is now a PhD candidate, working in the laboratory of Dr. Timothy Lahey. Balandya has been funded, in all these endeavors, through a Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program grant (directed by Dr. Ford von Reyn and Dr. Kisali Pallangyo).
Balandya was captivated by Dr. Lahey’s interest in the role of immune factors in human semen in modulating mucosal transmission of HIV, a rather forgotten area in HIV research. Prevention of the transmission of HIV will be difficult until there is a better understanding of all the factors involved in infection. Semen contains infectious HIV at all stages of HIV infection, so it is necessary to clarify its role in the transmission process.
Balandya and Lahey’s first study together focused on the mechanism by which HIV infects immune cells called CD4+ T cells. They found that factors in semen help protect these cells from HIV infection. This is important because CD4+ T cells play a key role in the overall HIV transmission process. This work was recently published in The Journal of Immunology and has been presented at several global HIV meetings.
Their work has expanded our understanding of this understudied area of HIV research. With studies on the immune potential of human semen currently a priority area in HIV pathogenesis research under the National Institutes of Health, this work will take them to the forefront of the global HIV transmission research agenda.
Balandya appreciates the opportunities he’s been afforded at Dartmouth and recently commented on his experience here, “I am greatly indebted to Dr. Lahey for his mentorship, Drs. von Reyn and Pallangyo and the entire Fogarty team at Dartmouth and to the PEMM faculty and students for their support.” Clearly, Dartmouth is lucky Balandya chose to do his work here.
by Jennifer C. Davey