HIV Cure Research Gets Million Dollar Boost From amfAR
The Foundation for AIDS Research (or amfAR) announced Wednesday it's giving grants to five teams of scientists working at "leading research institutions in the U.S. and around the globe to collaborate on studies aimed at curing HIV."
The money will be siphoned out through amfAR's Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE) program. Its point is to support "collaborative teams of biomedical researchers exploring strategies for eradicating HIV infection." While that leaves a large array of research open to the grants, the release from amfAR detailed each recipient receiving a chunk of the $913,000 that's going out. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $366 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.
"We have made marked progress in HIV research, and the pursuit of a cure has never been greater at amfAR," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. "The ARCHE program exemplifies this drive, and we must keep the momentum going to accelerate this process by continuing to provide much-needed resources and encourage some of the world's leading researchers to collaborate around this goal."
While some advocacy groups are fighting to make things more common across the epidemic (like achieving equality and non-discrimination), amfAR is still looking at the very complex parts of it.
"While we're steadily closing in on leading strategies that will help us cure HIV, there are still plenty of hurdles to cross, such as figuring out viable ways to purge reservoirs of dormant HIV or gain a better understanding of the CCR5 protein," said Rowena Johnston, Ph.D., amfAR's vice president and director of research. "The latest round of ARCHE grants will give us the opportunity to explore these strategies, and piecing together these findings will help enrich our understanding of the disease, which will one day lead to a cure."
Here are the grant recipients in ascending order of the grants they got, with descriptions from amfAR...
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Cynthia Gay, M.D. - principal investigator
Catherine Bollard, M.D. - collaborating investigator (Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC)
Safety And Immunologic and Virologic Response to HIV-CTL Therapy in HIV Infection: One of the ways researchers are attempting to cure HIV is by reactivating latent virus, which would then be killed by antiretroviral therapy, and killing the remaining infected cells. The immune system will likely be an important part of killing those infected cells, and yet HIV infection compromises the ability of the immune system to fight infections. Dr. Gay and colleagues want to boost the ability of cytotoxic T cells - a key element of the immune system that kills infected cells - by taking a patient's own cells and "educating" them in a test tube to kill HIV-infected cells. Those cells would then be infused back into the patient. In order to test this concept, Dr. Gay will work with colleagues to produce such boosted cells at a clinical grade, and will then infuse them back into patients to determine the extent to which they reduce the number of cells that harbor latent HIV infection.
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Eric Arts, Ph.D. - principal investigator
Ronald Veazey, DVM, Ph.D. - collaborating investigator (Tulane Primate Center)
A functional cure of SIV in macaques: model for ongoing ARCHE human trials: To supplement ongoing work in another ARCHE grant, Dr. Arts will work with Dr. Veazey to test an experimental vaccine in monkeys. Dr. Arts is designing the vaccine with colleagues at Case Western Reserve University and at various institutions in the United Kingdom. The vaccine is derived from a patient's own virus and is intended to target those cells that harbor latent virus that cannot be targeted with antiretroviral therapy. Promising preliminary data using the vaccine in patients' cells indicate that the vaccine may help to purge viral reservoirs and may thus represent a key step towards curing HIV. Drs. Arts and Veazey now plan to leverage resources from institutional partners to test whether the vaccine works in monkeys - if so, this would represent an important milestone towards testing the vaccine in humans.