Tetherin' HIV: amfAR Awards New Grants to Tie Up the Virus
New Mathilde Krim Fellows test bold new methods to treat and prevent HIV infection
For Immediate Release
Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager
NEW YORK, December 13, 2010—amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Monday announced the 2011 recipients of the Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research.
Named in honor of amfAR’s founding chairman, Dr. Mathilde Krim, the Krim Fellowship program is an annual research initiative created to support bright young scientists seeking innovative prevention and treatment solutions to HIV/AIDS.
amfAR grantee Dr. Sharon Lewin, an HIV/AIDS researcher working at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia,
where she will supervise the work of newly funded Krim Fellow Dr. Megan Crane, spoke with
amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Rowena Johnston at the December 2010 conference
HIV DART 2010: Frontiers in Drug Development for Antiretroviral Therapies.
“The gains we’ve made in the HIV/AIDS research field continue because of new ideas and new areas of inquiry,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “amfAR is committed to being a catalyst for groundbreaking studies, and the Krim Fellowship program enables an entirely new generation of researchers to make critical discoveries.”
The four fellowship recipients—Megan Crane, Ph.D., of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia; Andres Finzi, Ph.D., of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Inc., in Boston; Nicholas Maness, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Matthew McNatt, Ph.D., of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York—will each be awarded $125,000 to develop new ways to treat HIV/AIDS and its associated conditions, as well as an HIV vaccine.
“These research projects represent exactly the kind of bold new thinking we need to bring an end to HIV/AIDS,” said Rowena Johnston, Ph.D., amfAR’s vice president and director of research. “Armed with the information these studies will provide, we may be able to develop new treatments to slow HIV infection or possibly halt it entirely.”
Dr. Krim has been a leading advocate of increased support for AIDS research since the early days of the epidemic. The first fellowships in her name were awarded in January 2008.
“This new generation of researchers brings new ideas to the increasingly old problem of HIV,” Johnston said. “We are thrilled to continue our role in supporting such paradigm-shifting research with the potential to benefit all people living with HIV.”
More information about the 2011 fellowship recipients:
Megan Crane, Ph.D.; Mentor: Sharon Lewin, F.R.A.C.P., Ph.D.
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia – $125,000
LPS, immune activation, and liver disease in HIV-HBV co-infection: Hepatitis B liver-related mortality is now the most common cause of non-AIDS-related death in HIV-infected individuals on antiretroviral therapy. Dr. Crane will test the hypothesis that HIV-induced inflammatory processes that cause damage to the intestine also lead to liver damage. If this proves correct, it may lead to the development of therapies that could halt or reverse the liver disease progression common in patients infected with both viruses.
Andres Finzi, Ph.D.; Mentor: Joseph Sodroski, M.D.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Inc., Boston, MA – $125,000
Structural and functional analysis of HIV-1 gp120-gp41 interaction: The first step in HIV infection involves an interaction between the outer, or Env, protein of the virus with proteins on the surface of the target cell. Env consists of two component proteins, gp120 and gp41; gp120 is the part of Env that first makes contact with a target cell, while gp41 is the part of Env that keeps gp120 anchored to the virus. Dr. Finzi will try to understand how signals are transmitted via gp120 to gp41 that enable changes in the shapes of each protein after cell contact has been made—shape changes that ultimately result in infection.
Nicholas Maness, Ph.D.; Mentor: David Watkins, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI – $125,000
Discovery of antisense-encoded proteins as novel AIDS vaccine targets: All of the standard methods for making a vaccine, and even new ones not previously tried for any other disease, have so far failed to generate a product that can reduce the risk of HIV infection. Vaccines normally work by inducing immune responses against proteins associated with the virus they are intended to block. Dr. Maness believes there are previously undiscovered HIV proteins, and that the virus also makes proteins in a backwards (technically known as antisense) orientation. He will test for the presence and function of such novel HIV proteins to determine whether they may serve as the basis for a vaccine.
Matthew McNatt, Ph.D.; Mentor: Paul D. Bieniasz, Ph.D.
The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, New York, NY – $125,000
Determining how HIV-1 Vpu antagonizes the antiviral protein tetherin: When cells are infected by HIV, they launch a variety of defenses that act either inside or outside the cell. One of the defenses inside a cell is a protein called tetherin, which prevents newly formed HIV viruses from being released from inside the cell in which they were made. HIV has developed a countermeasure, a protein called Vpu, which binds to tetherin and prevents its ability to block the spread of the virus. Dr. McNatt plans to characterize more closely how tetherin and Vpu bind together, deriving information that could be used to develop drugs that prevent Vpu from blocking the protective effects of tetherin.
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 $307 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.