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Research in our department:

A key aspect of the department headed by Dr. Christiane Stahl-Hennig includes studies on preclinical prophylactic vaccines against various human pathogenic viral agents, but primarily against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In addition, studies on the pathogenesis and pre-exposure prophylaxis are conducted with the help of the AIDS macaque model. In this context, the unit focuses on the research of various mucosal compartments.

Moreover, the influence of genetically encoded host factors on the pathogenesis is investigated. For the latter the methods for typing of MHC alleles, the most important determinants of HIV/SIV infection, are continuously improved. As a service for the DPZ and within third-party funded projects quantification of SIV in the plasma by quantitative real time PCR (QPCR) and various genetic typings (such as MHC, TLR7, CD209 Trim5α) are performed.

In the context of externally funded collaborations about a genome-wide association study, previously unknown candidate genes were discovered. Their prognostic potential for the development of AIDS in the macaque model, using microarray and transcriptome analysis, will be further examined by means of RT-PCR. Additionally, within the framework of the EU project EUPRIM-NET in vitro methods will be established that can predict ex vivo efficacy of an AIDS vaccine.

All work related to determinants of pathogenicity and in vitro replacement methods as well as determination of viral load are carried out in the group of Immunogenetics, led by Dr. Ulrike Sauermann. In recent years, almost all the activities of the Unit of Infection Models were funded by grants and a wide range of different methods was established and applied. This broad spectrum of expertise could be used successfully to establish new models for infectious agents. In this context, the efficacy of a new vaccination strategy against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was investigated. In addition, protection studies against orthopox viruses were performed in close cooperation with the Unit of Infection Pathology. 

Embedded in an international consortium is a study of a prion disease of North American deer on the transmission of chronic wasting disease (CWD) to non-human primates to assess the risk of infection for humans. In addition to the in vivo studies, the work group was occupied with the establishment of cell culture systems that allow the zoonotic potential of CWD should be evaluated. Furthermore, by dual sponsoring (EUPRIM-NET and Canadian donors) the establishment of a highly sensitive method (real-time quaking-induced conversion; RT-QuiC) for the detection of prions in material of prion-inoculated macaques is established.

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PhD Theses

Dr. Ulrike Sauermann