Global Health Researcher Spotlight: Henrik Kløverpris
Meet Henrik Kløverpris, an Associate Professor at University of Copenhagen’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology. Henrik is researching the mechanisms underlying gut immune reconstitution following injury or damage after HIV infection. For several years, he has collaborated with researchers in South Africa, home to the highest HIV prevalence in the world.
Tell us about your research
My research focuses on the immune response to HIV infection within human tissue sites, including gut immune reconstitution, which is critical to HIV pathology. Our work is based on well-characterised human cohorts that I have developed in South Africa.
Gut homeostasis is critical for health but requires an intact intestinal epithelial barrier, which is disrupted in people living with HIV (PLWH) even after antiretroviral therapy (ART). Ageing populations on ART have persistent inflammation from gut dysbiosis and will enter higher-risk groups for comorbidities, including diabetes. This represents a looming healthcare burden in countries with high HIV and diabetes prevalence, including Sub-Saharan Africa. My research is directly relevant to better understanding the compromised tissue sites linked to pathology during long-term HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) and how to restore immune function best.
My motivation comes from the complex regulation of the gut environment whereby immune cells, gut barrier cells and our bacteria exist in an equilibrium called ‘gut homeostasis’. This interplay between our immune system, bacteria and intestinal cells is essential for multiple health challenges, including non-infectious inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory bowel diseases. Therefore, my work on the gut environment in PLWH is also important for other global health challenges because the gut compartment is central to our overall health.
Why is this research important?
Central to HIV pathology is the rapid breakdown of gut tissues early after HIV acquisition that is not restored despite long-term ART. This is important because HIV accelerates non-communicable diseases, adding to global and Sub-Saharan African disease burdens. Therefore, PLWH will enter a new multimorbidity challenge with pre-existing gut problems for which we have no current solution.
Moreover, work on tissue sites in PLWH is also a critical aspect to identify where in our body HIV is hiding, the ‘HIV reservoir’, and therefore central to HIV cure research. The gut compartment is again central because most infected reservoir cells reside within the gut.
What excites you about your work and your research?
What excites me is working in the interface between clinical medicine and basic laboratory science. The direct collaboration with clinicians who see the study participants in the clinical wards daily and engage in clinically relevant research questions, thereby actively bridging the lab work with the clinic, is highly valuable. Therefore, visits to our clinical collaborators are mandatory for my lab members because this brings another dimension to the reduced participant identifier (PID) number written on the test tube.
Equally essential and exciting in this work is to help support and develop my team members' careers and further research and job opportunities. In the South Africa lab at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), capacity building for the next generation of scientists is a core value set. I also expose lab members from UCPH to other research environments when relevant, as this may have a life-changing impact early in a science career. To see how things happen elsewhere, always put your own experience and set-up in perspective.
Predicting the HIV space in 10 years is difficult, as this field is very rapidly moving. I think there’s a good chance we will have new tools to control HIV infection without the need for daily ART medicine.
Which achievements do you hope to see within your research field 10 years from now?
I will strive to stay in basic and translational science to continue developing our collaborative projects and the people involved. I hope to see some of our observational studies translate into basic interventional studies through small clinical trials that will allow us to characterize new methods to optimize the tissue-resident immune responses and repair after infection or injury.
Predicting the HIV space in 10 years is difficult, as this field is very rapidly moving. I think there’s a good chance we will have new tools to control HIV infection without the need for daily ART medicine. This can be in new formulations of ART medicine, such as long-acting deposit injections with already effective antiretrovirals. Other possible scenarios could be ART-free interventions, such as the delivery of long-lived broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, in which our colleagues in Århus are doing leading studies. This may change the daily life for PLWH, so they only need to take medicine every 3 or 6 months, improving adherence to treatment, particularly in under-resourced populations.
HIV cure is a very hot topic, whether it will be an actual sterilizing cure or HIV remission, the latter most likely more achievable by the fact that a single productively infected cell in the body can rebound HIV viraemia to pre-treatment levels. What is even harder to predict is an effective vaccine against HIV.
What advice do you have for junior researchers in global health?
In general, I would stay away from giving too much so-called ‘advice’. However, I think it is essential to get out there to interact with people and new projects and seek collaboration where possible as we solve more significant challenges through collaboration and teamwork with common goals. Essentially, get exposed to different research environments within Denmark and abroad as that will help you develop both personally and as a scientist.
What is your favorite source of global health inspiration and knowledge?
Henrik Kløverpris, email@example.com
Associate Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, University of Copenhagen