Microbiology students at Lorain County Community College have come one step closer to being able to combat HIV. Microbiology professor Dr. Harry Kestler has been working with students at LCCC for about 10 years studying a specific gene.
“There was a group of students that approached me and said, ‘You know that gene you’re always talking about? We want to study it,’” Kestler said. “My goal here is to help the students learn,” he continued, “Their goal is to one day cure AIDS.”
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is spread through bodily fluids. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, also known as T cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Over time, HIV can destroy many of these cells, leaving the body unable to defend itself from infections and disease. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the third and final stage of HIV. However, not all who have HIV advance to this stage, according to the CDC.
No cure currently exists for HIV, but it can be controlled. Yet, LCCC students are hoping to change that.
One group of students performing the research made major progress when they were able to clone the CCR5 deletion gene. This gene has a mutation that is resistant to the Black Plague and they believe it is also resistant to HIV.
This group of students presented their findings at the 10th annual Cleveland State Interdisciplinary Research Conference on Nov. 5 at the Cleveland State University campus.
“It is always an honor representing LCCC at other colleges or universities.,” said biology major Darla Balawender. “Sometimes other institutions have stereotypes or biases against community colleges and it is an honor to show that we are doing very relevant and viable research,” she added.
“There are people with a Ph.D. who are doing this work, and here we are at community college,” said Gary Dodson, an Ashland University Partnership student who is involved with the HIV research and is studying to become a middle school science teacher. “Some of the students are 14 or 18 years old, and we are doing research that could change the world.”
Kestler added that about 80 percent of the presenters were Early College High School students.
“We’re taking things one day at a time since each result we get determines our next step,” Dodson continued.
The group would like to take their research as far as they can and get as close as they can to find a treatment method for those with HIV.
“It could happen soon,” Dodson explained, “but then again we may find out we need to start over with a completely different approach.”
Kristin Hohman contributed to this story