New amfAR Grants Address Critical HIV Cure Research Questions
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has awarded a new round of funding totaling $828,000 to advance two critical areas of HIV cure research.
Five grants will support a range of efforts to understand the mechanisms and predictors of post-treatment control, whereby a small number of individuals are[CB1] able to control their HIV after stopping treatment. Three additional grantees will study HIV-positive populations in low- and middle-income countries to look for differences in how the persistent viral reservoir—the principal barrier to a cure—forms and changes over time.
“Post-treatment controllers may hold the key to understanding how the immune system naturally controls the virus, so it’s essential that we achieve a fuller understanding of what mediates post-treatment control,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. “It’s also vital that we improve our knowledge of the crucial differences in the viral reservoir that may exist in those hit hardest by the epidemic.”
Dr. Jonathan Li of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has assembled an impressive cohort of post-treatment controllers from one of the largest HIV clinical trial networks in the world. Using next-generation genomic sequencing, he is investigating whether characteristics of the virus or immunologic responses can predict post-treatment control. Understanding the combination of factors that contribute to post-treatment control could help scientists design interventions to enable control of the virus after stopping ART.
Another grantee, Dr. Godwin Nchinda, a researcher in Yaounde, Cameroon, has identified a cohort of women who received ART during pregnancy and continue to control their virus despite discontinuing treatment after giving birth. He aims to study this group to determine the causes of their viral control.
The majority of what is known about HIV comes from research done in high-income countries, where HIV subtype B predominates. However, subtype B accounts for just 12% of global HIV infections. Dr. Edward Kankaka of the Rakai Health Sciences Program in Kampala, Uganda, has shown that non-B HIV-positive Ugandans had a smaller reservoir of persistent virus compared to people infected with subtype B.
Dr. Kankaka will expand these studies to determine whether formation and maintenance of the reservoir differ in these populations. His findings will add to our understanding of the potential effectiveness of curative interventions in people infected with HIV subtypes other than B.
In Durban, South Africa, Dr. Alex Sigal will examine the influence of tuberculosis—a common co-infection in low- and middle-income countries—on the HIV reservoir. He will explore whether the immune response to TB itself alters HIV reactivation—a key component of the “shock and kill” approach to curing HIV.
The remaining grantees are Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen of the Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA; Dr. John Frater of Oxford University, UK; Dr. Reena Rajasuriar of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Dr. Rui Wang of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Institute, Wellesley, MA.
“This group of grantees brings diversity to our efforts in their approaches, goals and geographic focus,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR Vice President and Director of Research. “Our efforts must support every promising approach that gets us closer to our goal of a cure for every person living with HIV.”
For a full list of grantees and descriptions of their research projects, click here.
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 advocacy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $517 million in its programs and has awarded more than 3,300 grants to research teams worldwide.