UCLA's Center for HIV Prevention Research's (CPR) mission is to develop and test innovative strategies identifying the clinical/translational mucosal immune correlates of HIV infection, treatment, eradication/cure as derivatives from understanding HIV mucosal immunopathogenesis.
Specializing in research studies and clinical trials of tissue-based translational HIV transmission prevention, CPR is a unique infrastructural research unit with model regulatory, registry, bio-banking, assay development and study/trial conducting expertise. CPR was one of the first research groups to demonstrate that HIV infection is primarily a gastrointestinal mucosal inflammatory bowel disease and that the gut is the main reservoir for HIV. The majority of CPR's work focuses on its ability to easily and safely acquire gut tissue which can be used in a broad range of ex vivo/in vitro experiments, emphasizing the critical role of direct tissue-based translational research efforts. CPR's research focuses on HIV pathogenesis in intestinal mucosa with its extensive activated immune system by examining the relationship between HIV and GALT.
The lab was founded in 1994 by Dr. Peter Anton, a UCLA gastroenterologist specializing in IBD, under the auspices of the UCLA AIDS Institute with the stated mission to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients with HIV-related gastrointestinal infections. At that time, about 80% of individuals with AIDS suffered from severe diarrhea and weight loss. These symptoms were responsible for over 50% of AIDS-related deaths.
With a seed grant of $40,000, Drs. Peter Anton and Ian McGowan (now at the University of Pittsburgh) and team pioneered methods of measuring the HIV viral load in mucosal tissue, the moist membrane that lines the gastrointestinal tract and comprises some sexually exposed tissue. Their first challenge was to convince the scientific community that previous virology and immunology studies, which had been based solely on blood samples, did not fully portray the relationship between HIV and the immune system. In 2002, Dr. McGowan, previously a UCLA research fellow, became the co-director of CPR.
Until recently, almost all HIV research was focused on blood. CPR identified the gastrointestinal tract as a major reservoir for the HIV virus, and continues to advance compelling reasons for studying HIV in mucosal tissue. The UCLA CPR, because of its unique focus on the gastrointestinal tract and ability to easily and safely acquire tissue samples using biopsies, is at the cutting edge of global research efforts to improve treatment of patients with HIV infection as well as preventing further spread of this lethal epidemic with vaccine and microbicide research. With eight years of experience in mucosal immunology and HIV infection, CPR was one of the first, and remains among the few laboratories worldwide, with enough acquired expertise to train others while moving the field forward.
Pivotal advances have occurred due to our fundamental focus on first developing and optimizing standardized protocols for mucosal sample collection, storage, and assays. Without confidence in methods of data acquisition as well as providing context by compiling large numbers of normative ranges from healthy volunteers, relevant clinical interpretation would be difficult, especially for use in clinical trials. Clinical research studies range from HIV prevention (microbicides, preventive vaccines), pathogenesis (innate immune responses, B cell mucosal responses, microbiota/mucosal communications) to ongoing therapy and therapeutic vaccines as well as HIV eradication studies and trials (gene therapy trials, tissue quantification studies).