GradImpact: Developing Novel Vaccines and Treatments against HIV and other Viruses

    Yi Wen, a doctoral student in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology at Cornell University, received the 2018 Harry and Samuel Mann Outstanding Graduate Student Award for her research that aims to help develop novel vaccines and treatments against HIV and other viruses. A virus can only replicate inside living cells and can infect all life forms. There are millions of different viruses, and viral cells reproduce by using the host cells to create copies. This process can make some viruses especially difficult to kill.


    Wen studies virology, exploring membrane biophysics and lipid chemistry to try and find a way to keep the host cells from releasing the viral copies back into the host’s body. Wen’s research focuses on the lipid “PIP2.” Lipids make up the cell membrane, which is akin to its skin. PIP2 is a pretty minor part of cell membranes, but according to Wen, “it plays a major role in cell function and also in HIV infection.” Wen discovered that PIP2 is extremely sensitive to some metal ions.


    “The metal ions shield PIP2, and only specific proteins are likely to be able to compete against those metal ions to have access to PIP2,” Wen said. “HIV appears to require those PIP2 clusters as assembly and release sites of new viruses. I think this could be HIV’s Achilles’ heel.” To learn more about Yi’s work visit the Cornell University website.


    Visit the GradImpact Feature Gallery to learn more about the amazing, innovative research being done by graduate students and alumni across the world.



    Photo Credit: Matt Hayes/CALS, Cornell University

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