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Ohmer, Samantha

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My lab is interested in the adaptive immune response to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In particular, we look at the course of infection and the immune response to the virus during gestation, in the post-partum period, and, unfortunately, in vertically infected children. In particular, my project is intended to identify the immunological correlates of post-partum anti-HCV immunity in a subset of women who are able to reconstitute an adaptive immune response, despite being chronically HCV-infected. Normally, chronic infection with the virus causes T cell exhaustion and dysfunction, but it is our hypothesis that the natural rebound in maternal immunity in the post-partum period somehow allows HCV-specific T cells to once more recognize and efficiently attack the virus.  Since this can occur entirely without treatment, it is our hope that by understanding the process in pregnant women, we can develop a model of an inducible renewal of HCV-specific immunity independent of antiviral drug effects.  Ultimately  we hope this will lead to improved knowledge for vaccine development or for improved therapeutic regimens to boost or support natural immune reconstitution.