Female HIV preventative project receives international support

A Burnet-led project has been awarded a major philanthropic grant for its research into HIV prevention methods for sexual transmission in females.

The Enhancing the Vaginal Environment-Microbiome (EVE-M) initiative will use the grant from The Campbell Foundation to formulate an intravaginal gel, which is designed to dampen genital inflammation in women who are colonised with harmful vaginal microbiota.

EVE-M Principal Investigator, Professor Gilda Tachedjian, said she was thrilled to receive funding for a female-controlled HIV prevention initiative.

“We will be formulating a bespoke intravaginal gel that contains a bioactive produced by optimal vaginal microbiota that we have discovered has anti-inflammatory activity,” Professor Tachedjian said.

Professor Tachedjian and her team have discovered that lactic acid (LA), a bioactive or ‘postbiotic’ produced by beneficial vaginal lactobacilli, has the ability to destroy HIV and also has anti-inflammatory effects.

“Subclinical genital inflammation increases HIV risk and decreases the efficacy of topical preexposure prophylaxis.

“Showing that our bioactive can reduce inflammation in women harbouring harmful bacteria will provide proof of concept to develop sustained release technologies of this bioactive to decrease HIV acquisition,” Professor Tachedjian said.

Each week around 6,000 women aged-15-24 are infected with HIV; subclinical genital inflammation increases their risk of infection.

Gilda Tachedjian

Image: EVE-M Principal Investigator, Professor Gilda Tachedjian

In awarding the USD$85,000 grant, The Campbell Foundation’s Peer Review board members noted the concept of vaginal microbiome modulation for the purpose of reducing HIV transmission is well established and the experience of Professor Tachedjian and her team.

Campbell Foundation Executive Director, Ken Rapkin hoped the funding would have a lasting impact on women’s health.

“This research could have a significant impact in the prevention of HIV among women globally,” he said.

“This study will answer important, but poorly understood questions, regarding the effective in-vivo concentration of LA required to mediate protective effects without disrupting the growth of beneficial lactobacilli,” Professor Tachedjian said.

She said the Campbell Foundation grant was testament to Burnet’s longstanding reputation in HIV research, dating back to the 1980s.

“It’s a fantastic outcome to attract funding from the USA, underscoring our HIV research at Burnet is internationally competitive,” she said.

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