Meet our graduate researchers - Dr Michael Moso
Research title: Nanoparticle and gene therapy approaches to HIV cure.
Started PhD studies in 2023
"Michael will be tackling the most important scientific question in HIV research currently – how to find a cure. If successful, this work will have huge implications for people living with HIV but also many other chronic virus infections. He will be using state of the art technologies including CRISPR and new advances in mRNA therapeutics to target and hopefully eliminate the HIV reservoir." - Professor Sharon Lewin
Tell us about your PhD research
My PhD research aims to evaluate novel ways to target the latent HIV reservoir, which remains the major barrier to an HIV cure. HIV persists despite antiretroviral therapy due to its ability to maintain latent infection in the form of DNA integrated in the host genome of memory immune cells. One strategy to target latent HIV is the ‘shock and kill’ approach, which aims to reactivate these ‘hidden’ forms of HIV and lead to death of latently infected cells. Research conducted as part of my PhD will assess the ability of a modified CRISPR-Cas system to reactivate latent HIV. CRISPR-Cas is an RNA-based gene editing tool used in gene therapy for its ability to recognise and cleave specific sequences of DNA. Using a modified CRISPR-Cas system (CRISPR activation), we aim to deliver a highly specific and potent ‘shock and kill’ stimulus, aiming to target and reactivate late HIV without the need for direct gene cleavage or modification. We will also evaluate the use of lipid nanoparticles for CRISPR-Cas delivery into latently infected cells, leveraging on the significant advances of mRNA technology and lipid nanoparticle delivery systems seen with the COVID-19 vaccines.
What and where did you study/work/undertake placement/training before your PhD?
I completed my undergraduate medical degree at Monash University. After my fourth year of medicine, I undertook an elective Honours degree (BMedSc), completing a project in HIV latency in the lab of Professor Sharon Lewin and Assoociate Professor Paul Cameron, located at the Burnet Institute/Monash University at the time. Following this, I finished my medical degree and then completed internship, residency and my first year of infectious diseases advanced training at the Alfred Hospital. I then moved to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where I completed my final two years of infectious diseases training, including my final six months at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute.
What made you decide to first undertake a PhD and choose the Doherty Institute?
I was definitely inspired by the work I saw during my time at the Lewin/Cameron lab during my Honours degree. My Honours year also coincided with the International AIDS Conference being held in Melbourne, showcasing local and international world-leading research in the field of HIV and HIV cure. This also inspired me to pursue infectious diseases as a medical specialty and a career as a clinician scientist. I always planned to return to do a PhD, having developed a passion for basic science research and wanting to return to the exciting field of HIV cure research. The Doherty Institute seemed the perfect fit for me to return to complete my PhD.
How do you combine your PhD research with your role as an infectious diseases physician?
I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the MACH-track program, a program set up at the University of Melbourne in collaboration with affiliated hospitals (including the Royal Melbourne Hospital) and research institutes for clinicians interested in pursuing a PhD alongside clinical training. This has provided me with the opportunity to have dedicated and funded clinical time alongside my full-time PhD research. I'm currently working weekly in an infectious diseases clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital while completing my PhD.
When do you hope to complete and what are your plans post-PhD?
I am completing my PhD as a full-time student and aim to finish in three years. Following this, I hope to build on my research skills and experience through a postdoctoral position (either local or international), while still maintaining clinical work.
What advice do you have for an infectious diseases physician who is considering a PhD?
There will always be a need for research in infectious diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of collaborative research, spanning basic science, translational and clinical research. There is a need for training of more clinician scientists to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical research. Consider adding in aspects of laboratory or basic science research into your PhD to increase understanding of pre-clinical research and assist in the translation of research to the bedside.