Dr. Adam Burgener

University of Manitoba

Head of Proteomics at the National HIV and Retrovirology Labs for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Dr. Adam Burgener is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. His laboratory specializes in proteomics and systems biology to study host immunity, the microbiome, and interactions in how HIV is acquired and develops in the body. The goal is to translate this information for developing effective preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for HIV-infected and at-risk individuals.

A healthy vaginal microbiome can increase the effectiveness of HIV-preventing drugs

Women are at high risk of contracting HIV, making up almost 1 million new infections globally.  In 2014, 1 in 5 people living with HIV in Canada were female, representing 22.4% of those affected by the virusFootnote 1.

Although scientists continue to search for new ways to prevent HIV and manage its effects once the virus has taken hold, very few studies have considered how the vaginal microbiome could influence the effectiveness of HIV medications and drugs in women.

Through his work, Dr. Adam Burgener explores how bacteria in the vagina can affect whether a drug stops an HIV infection. Dr. Burgener and his team measured the bacterial proteins of 688 women taking tenofovir gel, an HIV-preventing drug that must be administered vaginally with an applicator. Amazingly, the gel was found to be three times more effective in women who had healthy vaginal communities populated mainly by Lactobacillus species than in those who had non-lactobacillus microbiota.  In fact, in women whose vaginal bacteria were made up predominantly of the non-Lactobacillus Garnderella vaginalis species, the drug was directly taken up and metabolized by the host’s own vaginal bacteria. This shows that biological factors in women are very important for the success of topical HIV-treatment for prevention, and that some women may be taking the drug correctly, but still not have protection.

Dr. Burgener strives to better understand the genital mucosal immune system, as it is often the first site of contact for HIV in women and constitutes the body’s first line of defense against the virus. He is working closely with many domestic and international institutions and clinical cohorts from Africa, United States, Sweden, and Canada to develop preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.  

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