Council Commentary

Novel Population Council HIV and STI Prevention Research Presented at CROI, World’s Preeminent HIV Research Meeting

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Population Council researchers presented preclinical research results suggesting new strategies to prevent HIV and STIs from two studies at this week’s Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), the world’s preeminent HIV research meeting.  

Alongside more than 4,000 international HIV/AIDS research leaders, the Council’s Nina Derby shared new data demonstrating that a fast-dissolving vaginal insert (FDI) containing the non-antretroviral agents griffithsin (GRFT) and carrageenan (CG) provides highly effective, on-demand protection against HIV, herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), and human papilloma virus (HPV), three incurable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in monkeys and mice. These data suggest that it may be possible to formulate a discreet, on-demand, easy-to-use, and woman-controlled multipurpose prevention technology product to prevent HIV and other STIs.  See CROI oral presentation 424: “Griffithsin/Carrageenan Fast Dissolving Inserts Significantly Decrease SHIV, HSV-2 and HPV Infections in vivo”.

The Council’s Elena Martinelli and colleagues also presented new research in late-breaker poster session showing that a combination of the broadly neutralizing antibody, VRC01, currently being tested as novel HIV prevention strategy in the AMP (antibody-mediated prevention) clinical trial, and the anti- alpha-4 beta-7 (α4β7) antibody, reduces viral load and protects CD4+ blood cells by changing the immune responses to the virus. These findings build on Martinelli’s previous research helping identify the interaction between HIV and integrin a4b7 and highlight the potential of combining other broadly neutralizing antibodies with the anti-α4β7 antibody to inform novel HIV preventive and therapeutic strategies. See CROI Poster [319LB Abstract 3481]: “a4b7 Blockade Combined with VRC01 Modulates Immune Responses to SHIV-Ad8 Infection”.

This research comes out of the Population Council’s Center for Biomedical Research, which is  addressing some of the most pressing scientific challenges in sexual and reproductive health including: HIV transmission, pathogenesis and persistence – and factors that can interrupt it; how STIs such as HIV, HSV, HPV and others interact to increase risks to women’s and men’s health; protective immune responses that could be manipulated to reduce the risk of infection or disease, and others.

Nina Derby’s lab is using rhesus macaque and human dendritic cell (DC)-T cell models to better understand how different kinds of immune stimuli, including HSV infection, facilitate or restrict HIV acquisition and alter immune responses. Work in the Derby lab is also exploring how HSV infection may drive HIV disease and exacerbate HIV latency.

Elena Martinelli’s lab is working to increase scientific understanding of the role that HIV receptors, especially the alpha-4 beta-7 integrin, play in HIV transmission and pathogenesis. This molecule may guide HIV/SIV from mucosal tissues on the body’s surface to deep within the gut, where the virus replicates and attacks the immune system. Cells that express the a4b7 receptor are also more susceptible to infection. Her lab is building on this research with innovative approaches to block the integrin both before and after infection. 

In collaboration, the Derby and Martinelli labs are also developing models of HSV-1 genital and oral infection in rhesus macaques to study how HSV-1 may impact susceptibility to HIV infection.

Population Council scientists at its Center for Biomedical Research are investigating new approaches to prevent HIV and other STIs, and developing next-generation contraceptives and innovative new multipurpose prevention technology products, or MPTs, which are designed to prevent HIV, other STIs and, in some cases, unintended pregnancy in a single product.  Researchers are developing these new tools as sustained release formulations in rings, gels, tablets, fast-dissolving inserts and other innovative delivery systems that are designed to be safer, lower-cost and easier to use. For more, please visit,



The Population Council's Center for Biomedical Research (CBR) - located at New York’s Rockefeller University - is a vibrant hub of scientific investigation and product development.  For more than 60 years, research conducted at the CBR laboratories has addressed critical questions in reproductive health and supported the development of innovative products that help protect the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide.


*Note: This post was updated on March 8th to reflect that the fast-dissolving vaginal insert (FDI) contains the non-antiretroviral agents griffithsin (GRFT) and carrageenan (CG). A previous version of the post mistakenly referred to GRFT and CG as non-antiviral agents.