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July 2020 GSO Newsletter

The Graduate Student Organization aims to support graduate students in timely completion of their course of study at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa through encouraging excellence in research. In order to support this aim, GSO Merit Based Awards in Research will be awarded to one (1) Master’s level student completing their Master’s Thesis, and one (1) Doctoral level student completing their dissertation. Successful applicants will demonstrate a history of scholarly contributions and commitment to research.

Louie Mar Gangcuangco, Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology (Master’s)

My Master’s thesis focused on comparing substances in the blood of persons with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) living in the Philippines and Hawaii.HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. Since the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980’s, the World Health Organization estimates that about 75 million people have been infected with HIV. There are medications to control HIV, but there is currently no cure or any vaccine against it.

The Philippines has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the Western Pacific region, registering more than 1,000 new HIV cases every month. Doctors have previously observed that the immune system of Filipinos with HIV seem to be damaged more rapidly compared with those living in developed countries. To help understand this observation, we compared several substances in the blood of HIV patients from the Philippines and Hawaii.

We found that the immune cells fighting infections (called ‘CD4 T cells’) are much lower in the Philippines compared with Hawaii. We also found that the rate of previous tuberculosis infection is higher in the Philippines. Furthermore, a certain chemical in the blood called ‘TGF-beta’ is higher among people living in the Philippines compared with those living in Hawaii. Interestingly, high TGF- beta was linked with a weaker immune system. Other researchers have reported that high TGF- beta is associated with various diseases such as hardening of organs, also known as ‘fibrosis.’

This study is part of a larger research collaboration between the University of the Philippines and the Hawaii Center for AIDS. Further research is being conducted to fully understand the effects of HIV not just to the immune system but also to the other parts of the body.