Sharon Stranford didn't know the words "autoimmune deficiency" when a high school friend's mother began suffering from the disease called lupus. But that didn't keep her from wanting to help. Today, Stranford is an expert on the problem she witnessed firsthand—immune systems unable to differentiate viruses and bacteria from healthy cells and tissues, systems that no longer protect the body from sickness but attack the body and leads to painful disease.
Stranford's research on immune systems has included studies of why some genetic blueprints are susceptible and others resistant to diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis and studies of how to trick the immune system into tolerating what it would normally attack (a heart transplant, for example). Since 1995, she has focused on HIV and AIDS research, trying to learn why white blood cells called CD8+ cells seem to "see" and attack the HIV virus in some people but not in others.
Stranford has secured both College support and a National Institutes of Health grant to fund her CD8+ cell study and has established a cell and molecular biology laboratory where she and her students are hard at work analyzing the sequences, patterns, and functions of the DNA chains inside those cells.
"HIV mutates rapidly and can put on a different jacket every day, making it hard for the immune system to recognize and attack it," says Stranford. "But HIV can't change all of its most basic structures. If we can find out how certain cells in some individuals attack these basic structures of HIV, we may be able to develop a vaccine to target the virus, regardless of the cloak it is wearing."
- "Sharon Stranford on H1N1," Office of Communications, December 7, 2009
- "Sharon Stranford: Exploring the Mysteries of the Immune System", College Street Journal, November 9, 2001