August 26, 2011
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a total of approximately $12 million per year for up to five years to Emory University in Atlanta and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), part of Harvard University in Boston, to co-lead research designed to understand the events that occur at the earliest stages of mucosal HIV infection and how those events can be blocked or mediated by vaccine-induced immune responses. The new grants were issued through NIAID's Consortia for AIDS Vaccine Research in Nonhuman Primates program.
More than 90 percent of HIV infections worldwide occur via a mucosal route, mainly through genital sex. In recent years, the initial stages of HIV infection have emerged as an increasingly important area of research because of the crucial interactions that take place between the virus and human host during this time. A vaccine that can block these initial steps of mucosal infection may prevent HIV from taking hold and causing disease.
These early interactions take place in a short time frame, making them difficult to study in humans. Because rhesus macaques infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the monkey equivalent of HIV, have similar clinical outcomes to humans infected with HIV, and because humans and macaques have comparable anatomies and immune systems, these monkeys are commonly used as a model for HIV/AIDS research. Through the new consortia, researchers will explore the early immune responses to SIV infection in macaques to glean insights into what happens during the early stages of HIV infection in humans. That information will then be used to develop human HIV vaccine candidates that can block infection, prevent the establishment of latent infection, or significantly reduce the adverse effects of infection.
The BIDMC consortium will be led by co-principal investigators Dan H. Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Vaccine Research at BIDMC and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and R. Paul Johnson, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the New England Primate Research Center and Harvard Medical School. Their research program will consist of five projects designed to explore the mechanisms by which macaques are protected from SIV infection by either vector-based or live, attenuated SIV vaccines, or by monoclonal antibodies. Collaborating institutions include Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), the Scripps Research Institute, the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania, the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute (a component of OHSU), the University of Massachusetts Medical School and SAIC Frederick, Inc.
For more information on these grants, please see the original funding announcement, released in April 2010. For more information about NIAID's HIV/AIDS research, please visit the NIAID HIV/AIDS portal.
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