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Infectious Diseases

Principal Investigators

Premlata Shankar, M.D.

Professor and Co-Director of the Center of Excellence in Infectious Diseases


Department of Biomedical Sciences
Center of Excellence in Infectious Diseases
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
5001 El Paso Drive, El Paso TX, Zip Code 79905
Phone: (915) 215-4242
Premlata.Shankar@ttuhsc.edu


Research Interest

The Shankar lab is interested in developing RNA interference (RNAi)-based treatment methods for HIV infection. RNAi is a recently discovered process where small double stranded RNA molecules target specific mRNAs because of sequence homology and destroy them or stop protein translation within the cell. RNAi can be mediated by endogenously produced small RNAs known as microRNAs (miRNA) or by introduction into the cell of chemically synthesized small RNAs called small interfering RNAs (siRNAs).

The Shankar lab was among the first to show that siRNAs targeting certain host and viral genes can effectively stop infection by HIV-1 in cell culture. Towards the goal of using RNAi as therapy in HIV infection, they also engineered lentiviral vectors that stably produce siRNAs targeting a variety of HIV genes as well as siRNAs against the HIV coreceptor CCR5. Their next goal is to introduce these vectors into human blood stem cells to generate HIV-resistant progeny cells.

Recently, the Shankar lab has actually shown the feasibility and effectiveness of using siRNAs to treat HIV infection in a preclinical animal model. Since HIV only infects human cells, they used a "humanized mouse" model and a novel method using a single chain antibody to a cell surface protein called CD7 to achieve targeted delivery of siRNA to the HIV-susceptible human T cells for these studies. The next goal is to validate the efficacy of this approach in non-human primate models before proceeding to human trial. The Shankar lab is also trying to understand why HIV-infected individuals eventually fail to control the virus despite possessing a large number of virus-specific killer CD8 T cells. Comparison of CD8 T cell responses to the patient's own virus with the laboratory strains of viruses has revealed that, with disease progression, the CD8 T cells responding to lab virus fail to recognize the patient's own virus, suggesting that they are no longer protective in vivo. Further studies are aimed at understanding the underlying mechanisms for this phenomenon. The ultimate goal of these studies is to develop a rational basis for vaccine and immunotherapeutic approaches to fight HIV.

Dr. Shankar earned her M.D. from Benares Hindu University in India. She did her postdoctoral work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston and worked as a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School before moving to TTUHSC.

  • Ongoing Projects

Publications


Staff

Sojan Abraham, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Research Associate

(915) 215-4245

Preeti Bharaj, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Research Associate

(915) 215-4249

Jang-Gi Choi, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Research Associate

(915) 215-4246

Ying Dang, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Research Associate

(915) 215-4255

Guohua Yi, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Research Associate

(915) 215-4248

Angelica Cuevas

Medical Research Technician III

(915) 215-4247

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