UCLA researchers among teams receiving NIH funds to find a cure for HIV

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Enrique Rivero
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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded five-year grants totaling $14.6 million in the first year to three teams, one of which includes UCLA AIDS Institute researchers, to develop strategies to rid the body of HIV.
 
The grants are part of the Martin Delaney Collaboratory, a funding opportunity designed to foster public-private partnerships to accelerate progress toward an HIV cure. Delaney, an influential AIDS activist, died of liver cancer in 2009.
 
The goal of this collaborative effort is to find ways to eliminate the reservoirs of the virus that remain after an individual is on standard antiviral drug therapy, said UCLA AIDS Institute associate director Jerome Zack, a professor of medicine and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
 
"If successful, this work will point us toward methods to eliminate the virus from the body, with the hope of effecting a cure for HIV disease," Zack said.
 
Although antiretroviral therapy enables many people infected with HIV to effectively control their virus levels and thereby stay relatively healthy, some of the virus remains hidden in a latent or persistent form in cells and tissues where it is not susceptible to antiretrovirals. Each research team will pursue a unique and complementary approach aimed at eradicating these remaining HIV reservoirs. To fulfill their role as members of this collaboration, the teams will meet regularly as their research progresses to find ways to work together.
 
"Martin Delaney was a true hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and he believed, as we do, that progress toward a cure for HIV/AIDS can be made through partnerships among scientists in government, industry and academia," said NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci. "These new grants, and the collaboratory to which they belong, are one way in which we honor his memory and advance his vision."
 
The UCLA researchers are part of a team led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working with Merck Research Laboratories. This initiative, led by UNC's Dr. David Margolis, consists of 15 scientific projects and four core facilities located at multiple universities nationwide.
 
In addition to UCLA, universities on the team include Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins University, UC Davis, UC San Diego, the Gladstone Institute, UC San Francisco, the University of Minnesota and the University of Utah. The researchers on the team aim to enhance the understanding of how HIV persists in patients on antiretroviral therapy and to develop small-molecule drug candidates and other therapies to target the viral reservoirs. First-year funding is $6.4 million.
The other research teams are:
  • The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, working with Sangamo Biosciences Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in Richmond, Calif. In five projects led by co-principal investigators Drs. Keith R. Jerome and Hans-Peter Kiem, scientists will attempt to develop proteins that directly attack HIV reservoirs and study whether a patient's immune cells can be made resistant to the virus. These approaches for eliminating the viral reservoirs will be further tested in a preclinical model. Five core facilities will receive funding to provide shared resources and support services to facilitate the collaborative projects. First-year funding is $3.9 million. 
  • UC San Francisco and the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which will also work with Merck Research Laboratories. Led by Drs. Steven Deeks and Mike McCune of UC San Francisco and Rafick-Pierre Sekaly of the VGTI, this team will seek to define the nature and location of the cells where HIV hides, better understand the immunology of how these viral reservoirs are created and maintained, and develop and test targeted treatments that eliminate HIV reservoirs without broadly activating the immune system. First-year funding is $4.3 million. 
NIAID is providing primary funding for the grants. Additional funding comes from the National Institute of Mental Health, also part of the NIH. Funding beyond the first year is subject to the availability of appropriations. Merck Research Laboratories will not receive federal funds for their contribution to this research.
 
For more information about NIAID's HIV/AIDS research, visit their web portal.
 
The National Institutes of Health is the nation's medical research agency. It includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research and is investigating the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases.
 
NIAID conducts and supports research — at the NIH, throughout the United States and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses.
 
The UCLA AIDS Institute, established in 1992, is a multidisciplinary think tank drawing on the skills of top-flight researchers in the worldwide fight against HIV and AIDS, the first cases of which were reported in 1981 by UCLA physicians. Institute members include researchers in virology and immunology, genetics, cancer, neurology, ophthalmology, epidemiology, social sciences, public health, nursing and disease prevention. Their findings have led to advances in treating HIV, as well as other diseases, such as hepatitis B and C, influenza and cancer.
 
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Media Contact:
Enrique Rivero
(310) 794-2273
[email protected]