Education and Professional Standing
- PhD, Immunology, National Institute of Immunology (India), 1992
Understanding local interactions that influence immune responses to sexually transmitted viruses in the female genital mucosa.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are one of the leading causes of morbidity world wide and a substantial burden on the health systems of both developing and developed countries. Clinical and epidemiological evidence shows that women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted pathogens under different hormonal conditions. Vaccines against STIs are the only cost effective way to control and attempt eradication of these diseases, some of which are assuming epidemic proportions in different parts of the world. However, extensive efforts in last two decades to develop effective vaccines against STIs such as Herpes simplex virus, type-2 (HSV-2), Human immunodeficiency virus, type-1 (HIV-1) and Chalmydia trachomatis have been unsuccessful. WHO figures at the end of 2004 showed that for the first time 50% of HIV-1 infected individuals are women. Most of the vaccine research has focused on understanding different components of immune responses, following infection. Very little is currently understood about the initial interaction of these pathogens with the genital mucosa in women, where they first come in contact and establish infection following heterosexual transmission. Various factors in the female genital tract determine the outcome of local infection and the immune responses generated against these pathogens.
Our research efforts focus on understanding the microenvironment of the female genital tract and its interaction with the sexually transmitted pathogens and the immune system. We are currently focusing our effort on two sexually transmitted viral pathogens HSV-2 and HIV-1.
To examine the interaction between mucosal lining and viral pathogens and influence of hormones on these interactions, studies are being done on a mouse model of genital herpes. Our studies have shown that female sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, have a profound effect on the outcome of primary infection with HSV-2 as well as in vaccinated mice following challenge with wild type virus. Our current efforts are focused on examining the mechanism by which hormones affect the local environment and initiation of immune responses to alter changes in susceptibility and the outcome of infection. We are using both an in vivo mouse model as well as in vitro primary cell cultures of mouse genital tract to understand these mechanisms. We also use a number of gene knockout mouse models to facilitate our research.
The second sexually transmitted virus that we focus on is HIV-1. We have developed an in vitro model using primary cell cultures from reproductive tract of women, that mimics the conditions in vivo. Using this model, we are examining the interactions of genital epithelial cells to HIV-1. We are now developing this system as an ex-vivo model of heterosexual transmission, using semen from HIV-infected men to infect the primary genital epithelial cells. Concurrently, we are trying to understand how sex hormones and other co-infections may affect the interaction of HIV with genital tract cells. We are also initiating clinical studies in HIV-infected women to examine effect of co-infection with HSV-2 on genital viral shedding and influence of menstrual cycle
These studies have important implications in women’s reproductive health and will impact both STD vaccine strategies as well as women who are currently on hormonal therapies.
Dr. Kaushic teaches at the Undergraduate level within the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program. She coordinates the 3rd year immunology course and lectures in immunology and anatomy and physiology courses. Furthermore, she coordinates and teaches immunology courses within the Medical Sciences Graduate Program.
Dr. Kaushic’s lab is quite active in knowledge translation and dissemination. Due to their work with HIV, they are involved in volunteering initiatives with HIV-associated organizations. Dr. Kaushic herself is closely involved with a number of women’s health agencies where she gives consultations, and has also participated at the Provincial Level sitting on agencies which focus on women’s reproductive health, HIV, and other related issues.
Visit Dr Kaushic's McMaster Immunology Research Centre (MIRC) web profile for more information