Pathways Summer 2019

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known as PQBP1, that enables the immune system to detect active (not latent) HIV. The group is now using that knowledge to create an HIV vaccine adjuvant—a substance that could increase the effectiveness of a potential HIV vaccine. That’s exciting enough on its own. But the team took a chance and investigated a second possibility: Could the same molecule boost the immune system against cancer? The answer was yes. The team now hopes to partner with a biotech company that could take the molecule to a potential clinical trial in cancer. “We had no idea this was going to be important for cancer,” Chanda says. “But viruses tend to illuminate pathways that are critical in a lot of different diseases.” MAKING AN IMPACT The son of two biochemists who came to the U.S. from India, Chanda grew up in Rochester, New York, and considered careers in computers, medicine and science. Science won out. “I’m kind of a geek about technology, but it was the ability to impact human health on a global level that made me choose science,” he explains. He earned his Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology at Stanford University (where he met his wife, also a scientist—they now have two children) and did a postdoc at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF). He went on to lead a cellular genomics research group at GNF. He thought he would spend his career on the pharmaceutical side. But in 2007, he came to Sanford Burnham Prebys. “What I missed was the ability to work on something much more high risk than a pharmaceutical company typically has the appetite for,” Chanda explains.


He stresses that his group’s projects are made possible through collaborations with labs nationwide— and the supportive environment of Sanford Burnham Prebys. “Here, we’re encouraged to go out on those limbs and say, ‘What if?’” he adds. “At the same time, this Institute also has the capacity to move discoveries to a stage where they can translate into a practical impact on human health. It’s a really special place.”

Colored scanning electron micrograph of HIV viruses budding from T cell

HIV plays hide-and-seek HIV “hides” in a dormant state in reservoirs throughout the body. Latent viruses periodically become activated to produce new viruses and infect new cells. 1. Initial infection CD4+ T cell HIV

2. Establishment of latency

3. HIV lies dormant in T cell genome

CD4+ T cell

CD4+ T cell


3. HIV activates, causing virus production CD4+ T cell

Infection of other CD4+ T cells