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amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research - www.amfar.org

New amfAR Grants Nurture Next Generation of AIDS Researchers

Sixth round of amfAR's Mathilde Krim Fellowships continues tradition of nurturing and identifying new talent

NEW YORK, December 13, 2012 - amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Thursday announced its sixth round of Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research, designed to support the work of young HIV/AIDS researchers.

The new Krim Fellows-Christine Durand, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Lucie Etienne, Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; Alon Herschhorn, Ph.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Leopold Kong, Ph.D., of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA-will each receive $125,000.

"The research being done by these new Krim Fellows is exciting, innovative, and potentially groundbreaking," said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston. "Each of the Krim Fellows is doing work that could produce major contributions in four separate areas of HIV/AIDS research: cure research, epidemiological research, vaccine development, and treatment development. Each is at the forefront of the current demands for addressing the pandemic."

One Krim Fellow will use his amfAR funding to approach HIV vaccine research in an entirely new way. Dr. Leopold Kong is attempting to develop a vaccine on the basis of the protective coating of sugar-like molecules that surround the virus. This coating is traditionally thought to hamper the development of antibodies that might form the basis of a vaccine. Dr. Kong will determine whether this protective coat can instead be turned against the virus to render it vulnerable to destruction by the body's immune system. His research will determine whether antibodies generated against these sugars might form the basis of a vaccine that could prevent infection.

Dr. Christine Durand will address the case of the so-called "Berlin patient"-the first person known to have been cured of HIV-to determine which of the several interventions was responsible for curing him of HIV. Dr. Durand plans to investigate each of the three major possibilities separately: chemotherapy targeted against cancer, immune suppressive drugs, and the process of stem cell transplantation. The new information will not only help inform us about the contributions of each of these interventions to curing the patient, but may also reveal which are the most important barriers to overcome in the search for a widely available cure for HIV.

Dr. Durand will work with Dr. Robert Siliciano, who is also at Johns Hopkins and is a longtime amfAR grantee. Additionally, Dr. Siliciano has worked closely with other amfAR-funded scientists on cure research through the Foundation's ARCHE cure consortium.

"What's particularly gratifying is that several of our current or former grantees are mentoring these Krim Fellows, reinforcing how important amfAR funding is to several generations of scientists," Johnston said. "Together, they're making important discoveries that contribute to our understanding of the virus-and how to overcome it."

Since 2008, amfAR has awarded more than $3 million through the program, named in honor of amfAR's founding chairman, Dr. Mathilde Krim.

A full list of the sixth round of Mathilde Krim Fellowships, including project descriptions, is below.

###

About amfAR
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world's leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $340 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide. www.amfar.org

Christine Durand, M.D.; Mentor: Robert Siliciano, M.D., Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
$125,000
Impact of cancer and transplant therapy on HIV-1 reservoirs:
Although the Berlin patient, the first person known to have been cured of HIV, has been extensively studied, it is still unclear which of the several interventions he underwent was responsible for curing him of HIV. Dr. Durand plans to investigate each of the three major possibilities separately, namely chemotherapy targeted against cancer, immune suppressive drugs, and the process of stem cell transplantation. The new information will not only help inform us about the contributions of each of these interventions to curing the Berlin patient, but may also reveal which are the most important barriers to overcome in the search for a widely available cure for HIV.

Lucie Etienne , Ph.D.; Mentor: Michael Emerman, Ph.D.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA
$125,000
Cross-species transmission events that led to the HIV-1 pandemic:
When a virus infects a host species, the host develops counter-measures over time to counteract the virus. Although these cellular restriction factors are specific to the host species, a virus can sometimes jump from one species to another, as happened when a virus in chimpanzees infected humans and began the HIV pandemic. Dr. Etienne plans to investigate the genetic changes that happened in the monkey version of the virus to allow it to infect chimpanzees, as well as changes that allowed the virus to jump from chimpanzees to humans. Ultimately, Dr. Etienne hopes this information will help us to understand the risk that other similar viruses could or will make the species jumps from other primates to humans.

Alon Herschhorn , Ph.D.; Mentor: Joseph Sodroski, M.D. 
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA
$125,000
Dissecting the mechanism of HIV-1 entry inhibition by novel small molecules:
In a quest to find drugs that more effectively prevent the entry of HIV into target cells, Dr. Herschhorn is screening large libraries of compounds. He will identify leads that can prevent HIV entry at any stage of the multi-step process that begins with the first contact between the virus and the cell, until the virus is absorbed into the cell. These compounds may serve as the basis of new drugs for further development, but may in the meantime help us to understand more about the complex chain of events that allows HIV to enter cells. This may in turn give scientists further clues on the development of drugs to block these events and prevent the infection of cells.

Leopold Kong , Ph.D.; Mentor: Ian Wilson, Ph.D.
The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA
$125,000
Structural studies of glycan-specific sites of vulnerability on HIV-1 gp120:
Development of an HIV vaccine has been prevented by many obstacles that are presented by the virus. One such obstacle is host-derived glycans, a coating of sugar-like molecules surrounding the virus that shield the regions of the virus that are traditionally thought to be vulnerable to the immune system. Dr. Kong is attempting to turn this obstacle to his advantage, and aims to determine whether antibodies generated against these sugars might form the basis of a vaccine that could prevent infection. He will delve into the structural details of the ways in which antibodies recognize and bind to specific regions of these sugars. He will then determine whether sugar complexes designed in the laboratory might serve as a vaccine that could elicit these same antibodies and protect a person from HIV.  

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager, amfAR
cub.barrett@amfar.org
(212) 806-1602


Source: amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research


"Reproduced with permission - amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research"

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research
www.amfar.org


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