Emory to receive $6 million for AIDS vaccine research

Friday, September 21, 2012 11:04 AM

A team of researchers at Emory University has received a three-year grant of $6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery (CAVD), an international network of scientists and experts dedicated to developing an effective vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

Bali Pulendran, PhD, principal investigator of the grant, will lead the Emory team, which comprises researchers from Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Emory Vaccine Center. Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the vaccine center, is co-principal investigator.

The Emory researchers will lead a project in nonhuman primates aimed at programming innate immunity to induce optimally effective protective antibodies against HIV. They will use vaccine technology Pulendran and his Emory colleague Sudhir Kasturi, PhD, developed. The pair created nanoparticles that mimic viruses and are covered with molecules that activate Toll-like receptors (TLRs). In mice, these particles can stimulate long-lasting immune responses to inactivated influenza virus that last the lifetime of the animal. The nanoparticles were also shown to have effective immunity against influenza in nonhuman primates; this research was reported in the February 23, 2011, online issue of Nature.

The grant from the Gates Foundation will allow the researchers to optimize their TLR nanoparticle approach for an HIV vaccine and test the vaccine's ability to provide immune protection in a nonhuman primate model of HIV infection.

"An intriguing aspect of the data from the recent vaccine clinical trial in Thailand, RV144, was that although it resulted in a modest reduction in infection compared with placebo, protective immunity diminished over time," said Pulendran. "This underscores the importance of generating durable antibody responses. We believe our approach is particularly well-suited to this challenge."

In addition to Pulendran and Ahmed, the Emory team includes Sudhir Kasturi, research assistant professor at Yerkes; Francois Villinger, PhD, chief of the division of pathology and laboratory medicine at Yerkes; and Tianwei Yu, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics at Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. The Emory researchers also are investigators in the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

Other investigators include Shane Crotty, PhD, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Jeffrey Hubbell and Melody Swartz, bioengineers at Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and investigators at 3M Pharmaceuticals and Novartis.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the CAVD in July 2006 and has since funded a total of 30 grants supporting investigators in 19 countries. The CAVD operates on the principle that accelerating progress toward an AIDS vaccine requires the creativity of individual investigators supported by a collaborative approach that emphasizes the sharing of scientific information and the standardization of laboratory techniques and data analysis.

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