Kunming native Dr Xiang Jinhua is part of a research team at the University of Iowa in the US that have been investigating the beneficial effects of GB Virus-C on HIV patients. The group's findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US last week.
Dr Xiang, an associate research scientist in internal medicine working as research partner to infectious disease expert Dr Jack Stapleton, found that GBV-C increases production of proteins called chemokines, which bind to white blood cells where the HIV virus usually does. This prevents HIV from entering the white blood cells and multiplying and may be able to extend the life of HIV patients up to 10 years.
Dr Xiang recently took some time from his busy schedule to talk to GoKunming about his work on the other side of the planet in a small Midwestern city with no mixian or hot pot:
GoKunming: What were you doing before leaving Kunming for the US?
Dr Xiang Jinhua: I left Kunming for Iowa in 1996. I had previously been working in the Institute of
Medical Biology, Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Kunming, as associate professor. My research area was Hepatitis A and vaccine development.
GK: How long had you been working on the project that led to the GBV-C discovery?
Dr Xiang: About 10 years. I was the first person to start working on GBV-C in the University, along with Dr. Stapleton. GBV-C was first thought of as a hepatitis virus, but it turned out it does not cause any diseases in humans, which has been proven by hundreds of researchers. Our first goal was to clone the full-length viral clone as gene therapy vector. I finished the full-length cloning work and published the sequence in GeneBank and academic journals.
At the same time as that work, two research groups found that HIV patients infected with GBV-C can survive longer. We proved the results in Iowa HIV patients, and in vitro, we also found that if GBV-C infects human cells first, HIV replication was inhibited.
GK: What is the significance of this discovery?
Dr Xiang: It could potentially lead to the development of an HIV drug. We want to understand how GBV-C inhibits HIV replication and what the mechanism is.
GK: What are your plans for the next few years?
Dr Xiang: Not sure yet, but we are going to focus on isolating the molecule to see what causes it to inhibit HIV, and we also want to figure out a way to make it fit for usage in a drug.
GK: What is the coolest or strangest thing about Iowa?
Dr Xiang: The amazing thing is that there is a lot of open space and only a few people. You know, I come from a very crowded city- Kunming.
Also, the University of Iowa campus is located downtown, and it's not surrounded by a brick wall. There are always big walls around Chinese universities and guards at the gates.
GK: What do you miss most about Kunming?
Dr Xiang: Family, friends and also the delicious food.