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Sodsai Tovanabutra, Ph.D.

Chief, Viral Sequencing Core


Dr. Sodsai Tovanabutra received an M.Sc in Biochemistry from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, UK. She joined MHRP as a research fellow and prior leading the Viral Genetics Section.  Dr. Tovanabutra served as project coordinators of many international reproductive health studies when she was in Thailand. She was also Co-Principal Investigator for US-Thai collaborative studies on the epidemiology of HIV among drug users and the study on hormonal contraception and risk of HIV acquisition. Dr. Tovanabutra has characterized the genetic diversity HIV-1 strains in Southeast Asia, North America, East Africa and West Africa to provide the better understanding of pandemic molecular epidemiology of HIV-1. Dr. Gustavo Kijak and Dr. Agnes Chenine are senior scientists at the Viral Sequencing Core. Dr. Kijak works in the development and application of next-generation molecular techniques (e.g., deep sequencing and digital PCR) to the study of HIV-1 molecular epidemiology and intra-host evolution. Dr. Chenine expertise is in molecular virology and in the generation of HIV-1 infectious molecular clones (IMC) expressing various reporter genes. 


In support of MHRP’s research studies, Dr. Tovanabutra and her scientific staff employ advanced molecular biological techniques such as single genome sequencing, targeted deep sequencing, and genetic engineering to characterize the genetics of HIV-1, SIV, hepatitis C viruses and HTLV-1. The viral sequencing core team generates HIV-1 IMC and HIV-1 envelope clones (PSV) from acute/early HIV-1 infections and vaccine breakthrough infections to be used for vaccine design and evaluation of vaccine efficacy. The team has recently employed an HIV-1 human mucosal model of infection using human cervix and colon tissue explants to characterize the Transmitted/founder viruses.

HIV sequences and reagents generated by the scientists at Viral Sequencing Core have greatly contributed to the research in the HIV/SIV scientific community. In addition, Viral Sequencing Core has the capacity to measure cell associated viral load at lower copy numbers to support the studies on viral load in subpopulation T-cells and HIV-1 reservoirs.

The Viral Sequencing Core's mission is to generate viral sequences of HIV-1, SIV and HCV, as well as HIV-1 envelope clones, Pseudo viruses and Infectious molecular clones. The core routinely amplifies and sequences HIV-1 near full-length HIV-1 genomes (~9 Kb) from plasma/serum, CSF or PBMC samples. MHRP’s sequencing core is one of only a handful of centers in the U.S. with to perform high capacity HIV-1 SGA sequencing. 

The Viral Sequencing Laboratory is equipped to perform ultra-clean RNA/DNA isolation, amplification by PCR— standard, real-time, and digital, PCR—sequencing (Sanger and deep-sequencing technologies), cloning and cell culture. The Viral Sequencing Core, under the direction of Dr. Tovanabutra, includes two senior scientists, and the laboratory manager, Mr. Eric Sanders-Buell. The group also includes 4 postdoctoral fellows, 14 research assistants and a bioinformatician.

Selected Publications

  1. Heipertz RA Jr, Sanders-Buell E, Kijak, GH, Howell S, Lazzaro M, Jagodzinski LL Eggleston J, Peel SA, Malia J, Armstrong A, Michael NL, Kim JH, O’Connell RJ, Scott PT, Brett-Major DM, Tovanabutra S. Molecular Epidemiology of Early and Acute HIV-1 Infections in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 2005-2010. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2013. Oct;29(10):1310-20.
  2. Kijak GH, Tovanabutra S, Rerks-Ngarm S, Nitayaphan S, Eamsila C, Kunasol P, Khamboonruang C, Thongcharoen P, Namwat C, Premsri N, Benenson M, Morgan P, Bose M, Sanders-Buell E, Paris R, Robb ML, Birx DL, De Souza MS, McCutchan FE, Michael NL, Kim JH. Molecular Evolution of the HIV-1 Thai Epidemic between the Time of RV144 Immunogen Selection to the Execution of the Vaccine Efficacy Trial. J Virol. 2013 Jul;87(13):7265-81. 
  3.  Chenine AL, Wieczorek L, Sanders-Buell EE, Wesberry M, Towle T, Pillis DM, Molnar S, McLinden R, Edmonds T, Hirsch I, O’Connell RJ, McCutchan FE, Montefiori DC, Christina Ochsenbauer, Kappes JC, Kim JH, Polonis VR, Tovanabutra S. Impact of HIV-1 backbone on neutralization sensitivity: neutralization profiles of heterologous envelope glycoproteins expressed in native subtype C and CRF01_AE backbone. Plos One 2013. PLoS One. 2013 Nov 29;8(11).
  4. Kijak GH, Sanders-Buell E, Harbolick EA, Pham P, Chenine AL, Eller LA, Rono K, Robb ML, Michael NL, Kim JH, Tovanabutra S. Targeted deep sequencing of HIV-1 using the IonTorrentPGM platform. J Virol Methods. 2014 May 4;205C:7-16. 
  5.  Edlefsen PT, Rolland M, Hertz T, Tovanabutra S, Gartland AJ, deCamp AC, Magaret CA, Ahmed H, Gottardo R, Juraska M, McCoy C, Larsen BB, Sanders-Buell E, Carrico C, Menis S, Bose M; RV144 Sequencing Team, Arroyo MA, O'Connell RJ, Nitayaphan S, Pitisuttithum P, Kaewkungwal J, Rerks-Ngarm S, Robb ML, Kirys T, Georgiev IS, Kwong PD, Scheffler K, Pond SL, Carlson JM, Michael NL, Schief WR, Mullins JI, Kim JH, Gilbert PB. Comprehensive sieve analysis of breakthrough HIV-1 sequences in the RV144 vaccine efficacy trial. PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Feb 3;11(2):e1003973. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003973. eCollection 2015 Feb.
  6. Sakkhachornphop S, Kijak GH, Beyrer C, Razak MH, Sanders-Buell E, Jittiwutikarn J, Suriyanon V, Robb ML, Kim JH, Celentano DD, McCutchan FE, Tovanabutra S.  An effective tool for identifying HIV-1 subtypes B, C, CRF01_AE, their recombinant forms, and dual infections in Southeast Asia by the multi-region subtype specific PCR (MSSP) assay.J Virol Methods. 2015 Jun 1;217:70-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jviromet.2015.02.015. Epub 2015 Feb 25.