|Mouse; credit: Martha Sexton|
While HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was thanks to antiretroviral drugs, it still remains a scourge in many parts of the world. The use of model organisms is important in understanding specific biological processes and although their use is not new within HIV/AIDS research, none have specifically replicated vaginal transmission of the disease. Researchers, Mary Jane Potash and colleagues from St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University Medical Center were able to successfully use a modified version of the virus to infect rodents that subsequently spread it via intercourse.
The virus is most commonly transmitted among humans via sex and this allows researchers to observe this process without artificially infecting individuals. This is actually very important because scientist believe, and previous research has implied, that certain factors during intercourse such as seminal fluid interacting with the female reproductive organs have an impact on infection rates.
Scientists are also able to more accurately study the effect of potential vaccines and retroviral drugs. For example they were able to confirm that female mice treated with retrovirals prior to mating were less likely to infect their partner. There is also evidence that hormones might have an effect on transmission since mice in estrus were less likely to transmit the virus. Scientists are drawing comparisons with human females during their menstrual cycle.
You can find a bit more info here: eurekalert.org