Roy Dar receives NSF CAREER award for viral control of cell migration in diverse host-cell types

3/26/2020 Huan Song

Written by Huan Song

Roy Dar, assistant professor in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his project, “Viral control of cell migration in diverse host-cell types.”

Dar and his research group have been studying viral-host relationships specifically for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which attacks the immune system by targeting CD4+ T-cells (T-lymphocytes). According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAID), approximately 37.9 million children and adults are living with HIV around the world. HIV can be managed through treatment with antiretroviral medicines, but currently there is no cure.

Viruses can adapt to the human host and take over cell expression for their survival and reproduction. HIV, for example, can stay dormant in infected patients and spontaneously reactivate after antiretroviral treatment is removed. “The latent pool of dormant cells is the major barrier to a cure,” explained Dar. “We currently don’t know how to completely control or get rid of the latent cell population, enabling infected cells to evade treatments, reactivate and spread the virus.”

A novel study recently reported that reactivated and infected T-cells internalize a migratory receptor, chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4), from their cell surface which decreased the mobility of the cell. This change in mobility appears to enable the infected cells to better invade lymph nodes they occupy by slowing down and extending the infected cell’s dwell time by susceptible bystander cells.

This study will examine the mobility of HIV infected cells in five host-cell types The results may provide further insights into the mechanism of transmission and the pathogenicity of the virus.

The National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program’s CAREER Awards are prestigious and competitive awards given to early-career faculty who exemplify leadership through research and education. This program will provide five years of funding with more than $300,000 to support Dar’s research topic.

“This award will allow us to investigate the dependence of HIV reactivation with host cell migration, a viral-host relationship in infected cell populations. It will answer if the viral-host relationship is global across host cell types or specific to T-cells,” Dar said. “It will also allow us to try and control this relationship using different drug cocktails. Monitoring reactivation from HIV latency in tandem to 2D and 3D migration will require the use of microfluidic devices and microscopy.”

Dar earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and joined the Department of Bioengineering at Illinois in 2015. He also is an affiliate of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, Cancer Center at Illinois, and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

"It is a very exciting time to work in research teams (at Illinois)" said Dar, "that mix bioengineers, biophysicists, chemical engineers, nano-scientists, biologists, and bioinformaticians to push the boundaries of science into completely new directions."

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This story was published March 26, 2020.