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Rafael Contreras-Galindo, Ph.D.
e-mail address: rafaelc@med.umich.edu

Mentor: David Markovitz, M.D.

Techniques Used:
molecular biology techniques, PCRs (inverse, touchdown, RFLPs, RACEs, real-time qPCRs), reverse trascriptase activity, immmuno-electron microscopy, western blotting, immunofluorescence and IPs, cell culture, viral replication and infectivity assays with reporter genes, flow citometry, sequencing, deep sequencing, Phylogenetic studies of viral populations, recombination assays,  deep sequencing (454 or SOLID) and library construction, nucleic assay sequence-based amplification (NASBA)

Research Description:

Eight percent of the human genome is composed of endogenous retroviruses that are remnants of viruses that infected germ-line cells millions to thousand years ago. Over the years these viruses accumulated mutations that inactivate their ability to replicate. Only one family of theses viruses, termed HERV-K (HML-2), is able to produce viral-like particles and debate exists whether these particles are infectious. Our preliminary observations suggest that HERV-K viruses produced in the some cell lines are infectious. We have also recently observed and reported that these viruses are found in the plasma of people with certain cancers and HIV infection, however studies of the viral RNA genome revealed clues from viral replication only in patients with lymphoma and HIV infection. My project is intended to study the replication of these viruses from cell lines and in real people.


Contreras R A, Sánchez ZY, García VM, Sanchez E, Arroyo MA, and Melendez-Guerrero LM. Susceptibility of trophoblasts to infection with HIV-1 primary isolates.  Placenta 2001; 22(A77):275.

Contreras RA and Aristizabal F.  HIV-1 Vertical Transmission: A Review. Colombian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences 2002; 29-35.

Marta Gonzalez, Gladys Chompre,
Rafael Contreras, Ziomara Marrero and Richard Noel. HIV-1 Tat Upregulates IFN-γ mRNA in Normal PBMCs In Vitro. Retrovirology 2005, 2(Suppl 1):P33.

Contreras-Galindo R, González M, Almodovar S, González-Ramirez S, Lorenzo E, and Yamamura Y.  A new real time-RT-PCR for quantitation of human endogenous retroviruses type K (HERV-K) RNA load in plasma samples: increased HERV-K RNA titers in HIV-1 patients with HAART non-suppressive regimens.  Journal of Virological Methods 2006 Sep;136(1-2):51-7. Epub 2006 May 6.

Sandra Gonzalez-Ramirez, Sharilyn Almodovar, Maria Colon, Eric Lorenzo and Rafael Contreras-Galindo. Purification of HIV-1 LTR circles from PBMCs to selectively amplify episomal env sequences. The FASEB Journal. 2006;20:A492-A493.

Contreras-Galindo R, Kaplan MH, Markovitz DM, Lorenzo E, and Yamamura Y.  Detection of HERV-K(HML-2) viral RNA in plasma of HIV-1 infected individuals.  AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. 2006 Oct;22(10):979-84.

Contreras-Galindo R, Contreras-Galindo A, Lorenzo E, Yamamura Y. Evidence for replication of human endogenous retroviruses type-K (HERV-K) in HIV-1 positive patients.  Retrovirology. 2006 Dec 21;3 Suppl 1:S33.

Gonzalez S, Almodovar S,
Contreras-Galindo RA, Colon M, Hill MD, Lorenzo E. Isolation and purification of HIV-1 LTR circles from PBMCs for the analysis of episomal env sequences.  Retrovirology. 2006 Dec 21;3 Suppl 1:P20.

Contreras-Galindo RA, López P, Vélez R, and Yamamura Y.  HIV-1 infection increases the expression of human endogenous retroviruses type K (HERV-K) in vitro. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. 2007 Jan;23(1):116-22.

Contreras-Galindo R, Almodóvar-Camacho S, González-Ramírez S, Lorenzo E, and Yamamura Y.  Comparative longitudinal studies of HERV-K and HIV-1 RNA titers in HIV-1-infected patients receiving successful versus unsuccessful highly active antiretroviral therapy.  AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2007 Sep;23(9):1083-6.
Contreras-Galindo R, Kaplan MH, Leissner P, Verjat T, Ferlengui I, Bagnoli F, Giusti F, Dosik MH, Hayes D, Gitlin SD, and Markovitz DM. Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K (HML-2) Elements in the Plasma of People with Lymphoma and Breast Cancer. J Virol. 2008 Oct;82(19):9329-36. Epub 2008 Jul 16.

Honors and Awards:

2001 - Prize for Scientific Excellence, 1st Place Biochemistry Department. Poster presentation. Medical Science Campus XXII Forum for Research and Education UPR, San Juan, PR

2001 - Meritorious Mention Thesis Research Award, “Susceptibility of trophoblasts to the infection with HIV-1 primary isolates”, National University of Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia

2001- Prize for Academic Excellence, Concourse of Best Graduate Theses, First place Area VI Health Sciences, Bogotá, Colombia

2002 - National Prize Otto de Greiff, 2nd Place Health Sciences, Bogotá, Colombia

2004 - Collegiate All-American Scholar Award

2004 - First place HIV/AIDS session, Oral presentation, RCMI Symposium, Baltimore, MD

2005 - Collegiate All-American Scholar Award

2005 - Acres of Diamonds Award, Minority Trainee Research Forum, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

2005 - Invited Speaker, “The Functionality of Tat-induced HERV-K members and their role during HIV infection”, Institute of Human Virology, Baltimore, MD

2005 - First place in Basic Sciences, Poster presentation, 1st Annual Scientific Conference, Ponce School of Medicine, Ponce, PR

2006 - Invited scientist, “Developing a NASBA assay to quantify HERV-K in plasma from patients” October-November 2006, Biomerieux, Grenoble, France

2007 - Acres of Diamonds Award, Minority Trainee Research Forum, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

2009 - Young Investigator Award,16th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2009), February 8-11, 2009, Palais des Congres de Montreal, Montreal, Canada

2009 - Plenary oral abstract presenter, Department of Internal Medicine Research Symposyum, University of Michigan, May 15, 2009, Ann Arbor, MI


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