When I returned home to Cameroon in 1996, I opted to pursue a career in vaccine science because I believed that vaccines would be key to eradicating infectious diseases. Since I come from Africa, where Malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases are ravaging populations with an unrelenting intensity, I decided to do my graduate work under the mentorship of Dr. K. Überla, Professor of Molecular Virology. From him, I learned how to design and evaluate model SIV/HIV vaccines. During the next seven years (2003-2010), I worked under the mentorship of Dr. Ralph Steinman (2011 Nobel prize for Medicine) of the Rockefeller University, USA, where we developed new forms of HIV-1 vaccines by harnessing dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are the controllers of immunity, yet no one has previously tried to design vaccines that directly harness dendritic cell functions. While many groups are focusing on improving current vaccination strategies, to answer the challenges posed by these infections we have taken a completely different approach. Our group has developed strategies to directly target antigens to human dendritic cells in situ and manipulate their maturation status to achieve efficient immune induction. This strategy has provided useful information for the rational design of vaccine for clinical application. However, a major immunological requirement in addition to getting the vaccine antigens to dendritic cells is the requirement for a suitable adjuvant for maturing the dendritic cells that are presenting the vaccine antigens, and to conduct clinical trials in Africa where these vaccines are most needed. My research is focused on filling three main gaps in dendritic cell based vaccine science: First, to develop a suitable adjuvant for assessing dendritic cells in Africa; second, to develop new forms of DNA and viral vectored vaccines that could harness dendritic cells in situ; and third, to optimize vaccine combination strategies for the induction of enhanced immunity against HIV-1.
In the last twenty-three years I have worked in four laboratories in Africa, four in Germany, and one in the USA. Having participated in several vaccine projects, I am now focusing my attention on bridging the gap between research and clinical evaluation of optimized vaccines, especially because these vaccines are urgently needed in Africa and around the world. Under Dr. Steinman and our consortium, we developed the first dendritic cell targeted HIV-1 vaccine which completed a first human study in New York, USA, in 2013. I have acquired a good deal of promising information about this new area of vaccine science. Therefore I am confident I can now reach for my ultimate objective, which is to actively fine tune model vaccines for clinical evaluation in sub-Saharan Africa.
The need to eradicate or dampen the negative impact of infectious diseases upon sub-Saharan African populations. The urgent need to mentor young scientists to play active roles in designing, developing, and clinically evaluating novel strategies for combating infectious diseases
Take some time to know the problem before you start looking for the solution. Every road leads somewhere but know your destination at least. You need funds to sustain your research. Collaboration is vital in producing good results and transforming them to meaningful services for the general public. “Many hands tie a good bundle.”
Know that with HIV-1 vaccine research your imagination is your limit. You are going to hear a lot of discouraging statements like “a vaccine against HIV-1 infection is impossible.” The key is to persevere and inch forward! Your contribution will be useful in the fight against HIV-1 infection.
Remember that you can never do it alone. Search for funds continuously.
- Maamary J, Array F, Gao Q, García-Sastre A, Steinman RM, Palese P and Nchinda G (2011). Newcastle disease virus expressing a dendritic cell targeted HIV gag protein induces a potent gag specific immune response in mice (JVI, 2011)
- Nchinda G, Amadu A,Trumpfheller C, Mizenina O, Überla K and Steinman RM (2010). Dendritic cell targeted HIV gag protein vaccine provides help to a DNA vaccine including mobilization of protective CD8+ T cells. PNAS
- Nchinda, G., Kuroiwa, J., Oks, M., Trumpfheller, C., Park, C.G., Huang, Y., Hannaman, D., Schlesinger, S.J., Mizenina, O., Nussenzweig, M.C., Überla, K., and Steinman, R.M (2008). The efficacy of DNA vaccination is enhanced by targeting the encoded protein to dendritic cells. J. Clin. Invest. 118:1427-1436.
- Trumpfheller, C., Caskey, M., Nchinda, G., Longhi, M.P., Mizenina, O., Huang, Y., Schlesinger, S.J., Colonna, M., and Steinman, R.M (2008). The microbial mimic poly IC induces durable and protective CD4+ T cell immunity together with a dendritic cell targeted vaccine. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105:2574-2579.
This section showcases early career and senior scientists, advocates and clinicians working in HIV vaccine research and development, who will be sharing their career paths, stories and motivations. If you would like to share your journey, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.