March 04, 2017
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HIV experts, bioengineers collaborate for amfAR-funded cure research projects

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amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is pairing HIV cure scientists with bioengineers for six new research projects that will use novel technology to investigate latent HIV reservoirs, which remain a key barrier to a cure, according to a press release.

Each research team will initially receive a $200,000 investment grant from amfAR, totaling $1.2 million, for their project. The awards — part of amfAR’s $100 million Countdown to a Cure for AIDS initiative — are milestone-based grants that will provide each team with up to $1.5 million over a 4-year period.

Kevin Robert Frost
Kevin Robert Frost

“Over the past couple of decades, stunning advances in bioengineering have led to the development of new technologies and therapeutics that will likely have a profound impact on treating and eradicating diseases,” Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR CEO, said in the release. “Many of these exciting new technologies have yet to be evaluated in the realm of HIV cure research, and we hope this new round of grants lays the groundwork for some innovative approaches to a cure.”

For one project, Timothy Henrich, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco and the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research, and bioengineer Utkan Demirci, PhD, of the Regents of the University of California, San Francisco, will use a novel approach called magnetic levitation of single cells to locate and characterize HIV reservoirs. The researchers hypothesize that HIV alters the magnetism and density of reservoir cells, according to the release. They will use a device developed by Demirci that can hold a single cell between magnets and assess its density. The measurements will be used to distinguish HIV reservoir cells from uninfected cells and identify a molecular signature that can be used as a target for curative interventions.

In another project, HIV researcher Weiming Yang, PhD, and bioengineer Hui Zhang, PhD, both of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, will use mass spectrometry to distinguish molecular differences on the surface of latent reservoir cells and uninfected cells. The findings could be used to guide the development of vaccines or other interventions targeting latent reservoir, the release said.

Other research projects include a single-cell transcriptomic analysis of reservoirs before and after undergoing systemic interleukin-2 therapy; using nanocarriers to accelerate HIV reservoir depletion; and finding new and safer approaches to using gene-editing systems for targeting and eliminating reservoirs.

Rowena Johnston
Rowena Johnston

“This is a very exciting round of research grants that forges some unlikely but potentially groundbreaking scientific alliances,” Rowena Johnston, PhD, amfAR vice president and director of research, said in the release. “These highly innovative projects will undoubtedly move HIV cure research in some extraordinary new directions that, we hope, will get use closer to our goal.”

Disclosure: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.