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Victoria Polonis, Ph.D.

Chief, Laboratory of Vaccine Immunology

Dr. Polonis has spent most of her 28 years of research experience associated with the Military HIV Research Program and focusing on HIV vaccine development. She worked with oncogenic retroviruses for her doctoral thesis and received her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from The Roswell Park Division, State University of New York at Buffalo, NY.

Starting her career as an army officer and a post-doctoral fellow in the Division of Retrovirology, WRAIR, CPT Polonis characterized newly induced antibody responses in HIV-positive patients immunized with HIV-1 Env in the first HIV vaccine therapy trial. She then set up HIV neutralization laboratories at MHRP-WRAIR, and at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS) in Bangkok, Thailand. While working at AFRIMS for 3 years, she trained scientists and students and worked on evaluation of humoral responses in several clinical trials, including two phase I/II prime-boost trials, in preparation for the RV144 phase III trial in Thailand.

Dr. Polonis has coordinated regional labs in Thailand and East Africa for the Duke University Comprehensive Antibody Vaccine Immune Monitoring Consortium (CA-VIMC) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is a standing member of the HIV Vaccines Study Section for the Center for Scientific Review at the NIH.


The correlates of protection in the RV144 phase III clinical trial were primarily antibody-mediated. Dr. Polonis’ lab has focused for many years on functional antibodies elicited by natural infection and by vaccination, utilizing samples from multiple natural history cohorts and vaccine studies; her lab is currently performing an extensive analysis of pseudovirus neutralizing antibodies in the large RV144 follow-on trial, RV306.

The goals of the Polonis lab have been to provide virologic and serologic tools for evaluating preclinical and human clinical samples, in order to assess the role of neutralizing antibodies in protection against HIV-1 infection. The Polonis lab has also employed both cell line-based model systems, as well as primary cell types from uninfected humans, to investigate virus-antibody-host cell interactions and cross-subtype reactivities amongst the major subtypes of the HIV pandemic.

In addition, Dr. Polonis has been the project lead for development of HIV-1 envelope subunit vaccine candidates from multiple subtypes in efforts to find an Env protein that will elicit protective responses. She received a Civilian Special Acts award for her leadership in the development and evaluation of a Tanzanian subtype C Env protein from acute HIV infection. This product is in preparation for GMP production for clinical testing in humans and is currently being evaluated in a prime-boost challenge study in non-human primates, in collaboration with Dr. Diane Bolton.

Selected Publications (from a total of 91)

Redfield RR, Birx D, Ketter N, Tramont E, Polonis VR, Davis C, Brundage JF, Smith G, Johnson S, Fowler A, Wierzba T, Shafferman A, Volvovitz F, Oster C, and Burke D. A Phase I evaluation of the safety and immunogenicity of vaccination with recombinant gp160 in patients with early human immunodeficiency virus infection. N Engl J Med, 324:1677-1684, 1991.

Polonis VR, de Souza MS, Chanbancherd P, Chantakulkij S, Loomis-Price LL, VanCott TC, Garner R, Markowitz LE, Brown AE, and Birx DL. HIV-1 subtype E infected patients with broadened, dual (B/E) V3 loop serology have increased cross-neutralizing antibodies, AIDS Res and Hum Retroviruses, 17:69-79, 2001.

Chuenchitra T, Wasi C, Louisirirojchanakul S, Nitayaphan S, Sutthent R, Cox JH, deSouza MS, Brown AE, Birx DL, and Polonis VR. A Longitudinal Study of Humoral Immune Responses in HIV-1 Subtype CRF01_AE (E) Infected Thai Patients with Different Rates of Disease Progression, AIDS Res and Hum Retroviruses, 19:293-305, 2003.

Brown BK, Darden JM, Tovanabutra S, Oblander T, Frost J, Sanders-Buell E, de Souza MS, Birx DL, McCutchan FE, and Polonis VR. Biologic and genetic characterization of a panel of sixty Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) isolates, representing clades A, B, C, D, CRF01_AE, and CRF02_AG, for the development and assessment of candidate vaccines, J. Virol. 79:6089-6101, 2005.

Polonis VR, Brown BK, Rosa Borges A, Zolla-Pazner S, Dimitrov DS, Zhang M-Y, Barnett S, Ruprecht RM, Montefiori DC, McCutchan FE, and Michael NL. Minireview: Recent Advancements in the Characterization of HIV-1 Neutralization assays for standardized evaluation of the antibody response to infection and vaccination, Virology 375:315-320, 2008.

Wieczorek L, Krebs S, Kalyaranaman V, Whitney S, Tovanabutra S, Moscoso C, Sanders-Buell E, Williams C, Slike B, Molnar S, Dussupt V, Alam SM, Chenine A, Tong T, Hill E, Liao H-X, Hoelscher M, Moboko L, Zolla-Pazner S, Haynes B, Pensiero M, McCutchan FE, Malek-Salehi S, Cheng RH, Robb ML, VanCott T, Michael NL, Marovich MA, Alving C, Matyas G, Rao M, and Polonis VR. Comparable antigenicity and immunogenicity of oligomeric forms of a novel, acute HIV-1 subtype C gp145 envelope for use in preclinical and clinical vaccine research, doi: 10.1128/JVI.00412-15, J Virol. 89:7478-93, 2015.