CBR Travel Awards: Attending CROI 2023

Written by: Loulou Cai, PhD student

Edited by: Alexandra Witt, PhD student
Supervisor: Dr. Hélène Côté
Conference: Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections https://www.croiconference.org/
Poster Presentation Title: Several HIV Integrase Inhibitors affect immune cell mitochondria, proliferation and apoptosis ex vivo

The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections

The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections is one of the most extensive scientific conferences on HIV/AIDS, as well as currently prominent viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and M-pox virus in 2023. The conference is interdisciplinary, featuring the best basic, translational, clinical, and epidemiological research in HIV/AIDS. While it is a North American conference, over half of its attendees are international. This year, I had the opportunity to present a poster describing some of the findings from our lab regarding potential toxicities in a specific class of antiretroviral medication on immune cells.

This was my first international conference experience, and it proved to be extremely valuable. Prior to the official opening of the conference, there was a New Investigator Workshop designed specifically for new researchers. The talks in this workshop provided an understanding of fundamental aspects of HIV virology, relevant immunology, as well as an overview of the history and potential trajectories of HIV research. Topics included the power of community engagement and advances in HIV treatment, prevention, and cure. Additionally, CROI offered activities for new researchers, providing opportunities to interact in small groups with luminaries in the field. I was able to advance my knowledge on specific topics of interest to our lab, such as the side effects of antiretrovirals in women and children, sex differences in immune aging in the context of HIV, and the effects of other chronic/latent viruses on markers of aging. Thanks to the support from the CBR, I had the chance to engage in ground-breaking oral research talks and poster sessions that expanded my knowledge across numerous subjects.

The poster I presented described the effects of a specific antiretroviral class on mitochondrial health, as well as markers of immune activation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. This antiretroviral class, known as integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs), plays a crucial role in preventing HIV integration into the genome. It is now one of the most widely used HIV medications around the world. However, despite their efficacy, tolerability, and low pill burden, less is known about their mitochondrial toxicities compared to older antiretrovirals. The INSTI dolutegravir has been associated with weight gain in adults, which may indicate changes in cellular metabolism governed by mitochondria. During my presentation, I was approached by a few industry representatives who showed interest and concern regarding the results. (Hint: dolutegravir may have mitochondrial toxicities. Check out my poster below to learn more!)

I would like to express my gratitude to the CBR for supporting my attendance at CROI 2023 in Seattle. The academic benefits and knowledge I gained from this event are invaluable to my research career.