International interest in infectious diseases

Pascaline Kohio

When Hinissan Pascaline Kohio was just a young girl, she realized how passionate she was about the field of science and discovered her fascination with infectious diseases.

“I was very young when I decided that I wanted a career that would give me the opportunity to do research on understanding the biological processes that actually lead to disease,” Kohio said. “It was that initial childhood passion that led me to persevere and pursue this path.”

Growing up in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, Kohio became aware that the research programs available to her there were limited, and not very well developed. She then made a goal to acquire knowledge in North America, and bring her findings and skills back to her home country through collaborative work.

She also hopes to one day develop a research program in Burkina Faso that focuses on infectious diseases.

Kohio first moved to Savannah, Georgia where she completed a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Armstrong State University. She then completed her Master’s of Science in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she worked in a molecular virology laboratory.

The PhD Candidate is now working under the supervision of Stephen Barr, PhD, in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

“The high-quality research and state-of-the-art facilities brought me to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry,” Kohio said. “I was really interested in the graduate programs the Department of Microbiology and Immunology had to offer, and Stephen Barr's research.”

Kohio’s research now focuses on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), more specifically the HIV-1 strain.

During infection, the virus goes into a dormant state where it is not expressed or detected within the human system, making it very challenging to eradicate. However, the Barr Lab has found that when the virus incorporates its genome into its host, it has a preference to integrate it into a specific structure called Non-B DNA, and some Non-B DNA were found to suppress gene expression.

She is aiming to address the mechanism behind this, and figure out how the virus exploits these structures.

“There are currently antiretroviral therapies available to help infected patients control the virus’ replication, but we would ultimately like to use this knowledge to design a more targeted therapy that would allow us to actually eradicate the virus and cure infected individuals,” she explained.

Currently in the second year of her PhD training, Kohio explained she has really enjoyed her time in Canada. She also enjoys Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s welcoming environment — one she doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

“When I first arrived, I immediately knew that I was really going to enjoy this country and the School,” she said. “The Department regularly puts on events and activities that have given me the opportunity to connect with others who are just as passionate and interested in their research as I am.”