Canadian researchers' important discovery in HIV research

December 15, 2004

This release is also available in French

CANVAC, the Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, is proud to announce the development of a new method to assess how well the thymus (an organ located at the base of the neck) works and the discovery of a functional abnormality of this organ in HIV-infected individuals.

The team of investigators led by Dr. Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, professor at Université de Montréal, scientist at the CHUM Research Centre, and Scientific Director and Program Leader of CANVAC, publishes today its discoveries in Immunity, a prestigious scientific journal. This work was performed in collaboration with investigators from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre as well as from France and Israel.

Using only blood samples, these researchers first developed a method to assess how well the thymus functions. The thymus is involved in the development of T-lymphocytes, an essential component of the immune system. T-lymphocytes also happen to be HIV's preferred targets for infection. The researchers then used this method to study blood samples from patients that had been recently infected with HIV and found that, already in the first months following the onset of infection, thymic function is decreased. Such a decrease results in a lowered T-lymphocyte production by the thymus.

These findings pave the way to the development of novel immunotherapies of HIV-infected individuals. Such immunotherapies could be also applicable to patients requiring bone marrow transplantation to cure their cancer.
As a Network of Centres of Excellence, CANVAC, the Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, is a unique network of 75 of the most highly recognized Canadian research teams specializing in the fields of immunology, virology, and molecular biology, who are affiliated with 21 Canadian universities and research institutes. CANVAC is working in collaboration with 23 corporate partners, as well as interested government agencies and several patient and consumer groups, towards the development of safe and effective vaccines and immunotherapies to prevent and treat diseases related to HIV and hepatitis C virus, emerging viral infections and cancer. Université de Montréal hosts CANVAC.

Founded in 1878, the Université de Montréal counts 13 faculties and, along with its two affiliated Schools, HEC Montréal and l'École Polytechnique, is Quebec's largest institution of higher learning, second in Canada, and among the most active in North America. With a faculty of 2,300 professors and researchers, the university has a student population of close to 55,000, offers more than 550 undergraduate and graduate programs and awards some 3,000 Master's and PhD degrees each year.

CHUM is a university hospital centre that provides specialized and highly specialized services to a regional and supraregional clientele. CHUM also offers general and specialized hospital services for its immediate service area. These services, which contribute to teaching and research and to technology and health-intervention evaluation, are provided on an integrated network basis. CHUM also contributes to the ongoing promotion of health through its front-line services. The CHUM Research Centre is used by more than 300 researchers working in diverse fields to improve the well-being of the population at large.

CHUM represents Hôtel-Dieu, Notre-Dame and Saint-Luc. CHUM's approximately 10,000 employees, 1,000 doctors and 800 volunteers receive more than half a million patients every year.

University of Montreal

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