The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that infects cells of the immune system and in the absence of treatment, causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

HIV is transmitted via body fluids such as breast milk, blood, semen and vaginal fluids and targets specific cells of the immune system that express the CD4 receptor, which are important for preventing infections and some forms of cancers. HIV infection of CD4+ cells causes cell death or loss of function that gradually weakens the immune system.

While there is currently no cure for HIV, there is effective treatment available, however it is required for life and comes at considerable cost.

HIV virion in a milieu of serum proteins.
HIV virion in a milieu of serum proteins.

The global burden

It is estimated that approximately 34 million people have died due to HIV-related causes worldwide. By the end of 2014, there were approximately 36.9 million people living with HIV globally, with an estimated two million people becoming newly infected with the virus [1]. In Australia, an estimated 27,150 people were living with HIV by the end of 2014, while the number of newly diagnosed infections has remained stable for the past three years at approximately 1000 per year [2].

The Doherty Institute's expertise

Researchers at the Doherty Institute are studying where and how HIV persists in patients on treatment and how to wake up the virus from its hiding places, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure. In addition, various groups are investigating the immune response to HIV and how HIV can evade the body’s natural responses to infection. Researchers are developing novel vaccine strategies where tiny capsules (nanoparticles) are loaded with pieces of the virus to induce a powerful immune response. The Doherty Institute is also responsible for HIV testing across the state of Victoria and developing the latest tests needed for care of people living with HIV infection.


[1] UNAIDS AIDSinfo 2O14

[2] The Kirby Annual Surveillance Report 2015