Director of the Developmental Core: Michael Bukrinsky, MD, PhD

Michael Bukrinsky photo
February 03, 2015

It was almost inevitable that Michael Bukrinsky, MD, PhD, Director of the DC D-CFAR Developmental Core, would become a researcher: both his mother and father were prominent medical researchers in their respective fields. With this early exposure and deep interest in science, Bukrinsky attended Moscow Medical School, where he earned his MD and later, the Institute of Molecular Biology, for his PhD in molecular biology with a specialization in biochemistry and molecular biology. With a written thesis on mobile genomic elements and education in molecular biology, Bukrinsky felt it only natural to pursue a career in HIV research.

When he began his HIV research in Russia in 1984, the virus had just been described and “this was an exciting new area of research,” Bukrinsky explains. After moving to the United States in 1989, he worked in HIV research at the University of Nebraska with Dr. Mario Stevenson, a prominent researcher who later became Co-Director of the Miami CFAR. Soon after, Dr. Bukrinsky accepted a faculty position at the prestigious Picower Institute for Medical Research under the direction of Dr. Anthony Cerami, where he was invited to start a virology laboratory working on HIV. After working at the Picower Institute for 10 years, Bukrinsky was invited to the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences as a tenured Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine (MITM) in 2001, where he is now the Vice Chair of the department.

Bukrinsky’s research explores many different areas of HIV, including the HIV lifecycle, the mechanisms of HIV replication in host cells and the mechanisms of HIV pathogenesis and its effects on different tissues and organs. In his early work in Russia, Dr. Bukrinsky developed an HIV-antigen-based diagnostic system that is still used today. He later worked on identifying the features of HIV that allow the virus to enter the nucleus and become integrated within the genome of the host cell.

His current research focuses on Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and HIV. As antiretroviral treatment has become so effective, Bukrinsky notes that, “HIV has become more of a chronic disease,” with a number of other conditions, including CVD, occurring more frequently. Bukrinsky’s lab now explores the development of potential drugs that target viral replication, maturation and infectivity as it relates to lipid metabolism manipulation. Sequencing studies related to this lipidology of HIV led Dr. Bukrinsky and his team to the discovery of the mechanism by which an HIV gene—NEF—plays a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases in HIV-positive individuals. Another line of studies in Bukrisnky’s lab concerns anti-HIV innate immunity factors counteracted by HIV protein Vpr. Dr. Bukrinsky believes that future HIV research will focus on the innate immunity mechanisms that may be protective against retroviruses and in particular, HIV. He looks to explore the most important innate genes that antagonize the viral proteins, in order to design vaccines or treatments for HIV.

As the DC D-CFAR Developmental Core Director, Bukrinsky works to develop and cultivate junior investigators to further their HIV research. He explains that the Developmental Core is “a critical core in the CFAR structure because it expands research and develops leaders in HIV [research],” which, as Bukrinsky describes, is the best way to increase research funding and advance the field of HIV research.