I study with-host HIV dynamics to understand, predict, and optimize the efficacy of (potential) treatment strategies. I am particularly interested in the first few hours to days after HIV exposure, as studies strongly suggest that an infection may be prevented if anti-retroviral drugs are taken in this crucial time period. After this time, HIV is properly established in its host and can no longer be eliminated. The efficacy of PEP (anti-retroviral drugs taken prophylactically after (possible) exposure) is extremely hard to study because (i) the important time window is so short, (ii) the chances of an infection are very slim, and (iii) the numbers of HIV particles involved is very small, which makes it almost impossible to measure. Even animal studies are difficult to perform and very expensive, and therefore the current PEP guidelines by the WHO need to rely on (old) studies, performed before modern drugs were available.
A mathematical model is a very useful tool in such a situation, as it allows to track and better understand the dynamics between HIV and the human immune system, despite that fact that most interactions are impossible or very difficult to measure directly. It can thus be useful to try several treatment strategies and predict and optimize their efficacy. Hence, I work on developing a mathematical model that incorporates the aspects of the HIV - immune system interaction that are most important in the first few hour to days after exposure to the virus. In cooperation with the BC Centre for Disease Control I hope to calibrate the model parameters and verify its accuracy, so that it can be used when new treatment strategies are to be evaluated. My work may then also be applied to predict PrEP (anti-retroviral drugs taken prophylactically *before* (possible) exposure) and to understand HIV vaccine trails, where it may help to identify reasons for some of their failures.