McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Kaushic awarded HIV research chair

By Chantall Van Raay
Published: April 24, 2012
Charu Kaushic
Charu Kaushic, an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre

McMaster University researcher Charu Kaushic has been awarded an Applied HIV Research Chair from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), a collaborative network promoting excellence in HIV treatment, research and education.

Kaushic, associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, will use the five-year chair, valued at $750,000, to develop knowledge and prevention strategies that decrease women’s susceptibility to HIV. She is one of two award winners.

Globally, 15 million women are infected with HIV, primarily from unprotected heterosexual contact. African-Caribbean women, in particular, face an increased risk.

Kaushic said studies suggest hormonal contraceptives, such as oral contraceptives, the patch, birth control injections, vaginal ring, may contribute to an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Recently, UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, emphasized the need for more research in this area, she said.

The suppression of some inherent immune factors may be a possible cause of this increased risk, said Kaushic, a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and McMaster Immunology Research Centre.

Dr. Kaushic’s research is both timely and relevant," said Sean Rourke, scientific and executive director of the OHTN. "Her work will help the field understand the underlying basis for increased biological susceptibility to HIV in African, Caribbean and Black women and develop strategies to reduce that risk."

Her research team hopes to develop information that can be used for recommendations on safe contraceptive choices. They will also examine a natural anti-inflammatory compound, called curcumin, to determine if it can be used as a topical prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection in women.

A third project will explore the potential of strengthening the genital mucosal barrier. This follows Kaushic’s study published two years ago in the journal PLoS Pathogens which found — for the first time — that HIV can break down the mucosal barrier in the intestinal and female genital tract, allowing the virus to cross during intercourse.

The OHTN award will also include a trainee exchange program between Kaushic’s lab and her partner organization, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands (WHIWH), a community health centre providing primary health care to African Caribbean women in Toronto and surrounding communities.

"Because of this incredible opportunity provided by OHTN we will be able to make significant contributions to knowledge and prevention strategies that decrease women’s susceptibility to HIV," said Kaushic.


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