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Francois Villinger



1984  Federal Veterinary Medicine License, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

1986 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM/PhD in Virology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Director of the New Iberia Research Center

Humans and nonhuman primates share >95% of genetic homology and present many similarities in their immune response patterns, especially when compared to rodents. In addition, many pathogens, such as HIV, EBV, Ebola, Zyka virus and others either infect and cause disease in nonhuman primates or have a primate counterpart with pathomechanisms very similar to those observed in humans. This renders nonhuman primates as the ultimate preclinical model to study not only therapies, organ transplantation or vaccines, but also provides important models to study basic biological mechanisms of disease induction and defenses.
Key to advances in the biomedical field using these models is a fine definition of such models and the availability of tools to conduct preclinical studies.  The New Iberia Research Center as the largest primate center in the world offers many opportunities to develop test and use such models.

Research Focus:

Characterization of the immune response against SIV in the non-human primate model of human AIDS with a special emphasis mechanisms of pathogenesis tied to disruption of the gut homeostasis and on the delineation of the mechanisms by which natural SIV infection of select African non-human primates result in disease resistance whereas Asian non-human primates following experimental infection develop disease and die from AIDS.

Exploration of strategies to restore immune responses and antiviral immune responses following SIV infection using combination of antiviral treatment, immunization, immunotherapies and adoptive transfer of T cell effectors, disruption of cell traffic.

HIV vaccine research and microbicide based prevention methods to block mucosal HIV acquisition. 

Exploration of additional nonhuman primate models of human infection and development of detection, therapies and vaccines to dengue hemorrhagic fever, Zyka virus infection and pathogenesis, Listeria monocytogenes invasion, EBV targeted vaccine using the macaque Lymphocryptovirus model, babesiosis as a threat to the US blood bank and vaccine to the intracellular parasite Schistosoma japonicum.

Current and future sources of funding
R24 OD010947  (PI: Villinger) 2/1/2015 – 1/31/2019
Resource for Nonhuman Primate Immune Reagents
The purpose of this project is to provide researchers with NIH grants a resource for obtaining nonhuman primate recombinant cytokines, chemokines and other primate specific immune reagents.

R01 AI111907  (MPIs: Villinger, Santangelo) 7/15/2014-6/30/2019
Monitoring SIV reservoirs with whole body immunoPET
This project will aim to improve an existing immunoPET/CT based strategy to image SIV in whole body scans to evaluate the seeding of SIV reservoirs during acute infection, residual viral replication during ART and functional reservoirs fueling viral resurgence upon ART cessation. 

U19AI096398  (PI: Anderson) 8/1/2011 – 7/31/2016
Monoclonal Antibody-based Multipurpose Microbicides.  Project 5:  Preclinical Evaluation in Nonhuman Primates
This project will explore novel microbicides based on broadly neutralizing mAbs to prevent HIV transmission using SHIV models of vaginal exposures. The project will test the safety and efficacy of recombinant human mAbs produced in tobacco plants using various forms of delivery, including gels, biofilms and intravaginal rings.

R01 AI098628  (PI: Ansari) 5/17/2012 – 4/30/2017
Gut Homing Cells in SIV Infection
The goal of this project is delineate the function and importance of cell traffic to the GI tract upon infection with SIV or SHIV via various routes. 

R01 AI11863  (PI: Spearman) 4/10/2014 – 3/31/2018
Mucosal Protection against HIV Generated by PIV5
The goal of this project is explore the ability of a commonly used parainfluenza virus 5 vector expressing HIV proteins to induce mucosal immune responses in mice and primates able to protect from vaginal challenge.

U19 AI113127  (PI: Hendrix) 7/1/2014-6/30/2019
Development of Rectal Enema As Microbicide (DREAM)
This project explores novel strategies to achieve protection from rectal HIV transmission using tenofovir based rectal microbicides that are combined with hypotonic enema and mucus penetrating nanoparticles to promote uptake of the drug by the rectal epithelium leading to lasting protective effect from challenge.
Role: Co-PI Project 2

R01 AI11863  (MPIs: Pahwa - Villinger) 8/5/2015 – 7/31/2020
Antibody responses in aging SIV infected monkeys
The goal of this project is explore the mechanisms underlying decreased immune responses to common vaccines in aged and SIV infected/ART treated monkeys as well as explore strategies to compensate for such deficit in vivo.

R01AI110680  (PI: Compans) 4/1/2018 – 3/31/2020
Skin Vaccination against Influenza in the Young & Aged
We plan to build on our preliminary data and previous studies, and take advantage of our extensive experience with different types of microneedle designs and technologies and unique animal models to successfully complete this project.
Role:  Co-I, Years 4 and 5 only

R01AI111557  (PI: Skountzou) 8/5/2017 – 7/31/2018
Adjuvants for Skin Immunization: Discovery and Mechanisms
We will investigate the role of novel fused cytokines and immunomodulatory chemokines secreted in the skin following vaccine delivery that can alter the magnitude and the quality of immune responses to vaccines. We also plan to take advantage of our extensive experience with microneedles to design novel dissolving polymer microneedle formulations to encapsulate the adjuvanted vaccine while preserving the functional properties of the components.
Role:  Co-I, Year 4