New funding for novel AIDS research

AIDS researchers.
September 30, 2013 7:57:57 PM PDT
Researchers at San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes are being awarded more than $12 million in grants from divisions of the National Institutes of Health to help develop an elusive knock-out punch against AIDS.

The agency focused on researchers who are employing unique strategies for fighting the disease.

For Warner Greene, MD and Leor Weinberger, PhD., that means cutting off the HIV virus before it can trigger the disease. But unlike current therapies that use retroviral drugs, they're concentrating on two different but equally novel tactics.

Weinberger's team believes they can starve the virus by creating HIV parasites. They're genetically modified versions of HIV which are harmless to humans. Once in the body, they suck up cellular resources the virus needs to replicate and ultimately cause aids.

"We're building molecular parasites of the virus that hijack this virus. Hijack the hijacker and steal the resources from the hijacker," says Weinberger.

Weinberger also believes the stripped-down parasite, also known as a therapeutic interfering particle, could possibly mutate along with HIV itself, potentially acting like a long-term vaccine in the body.

"We're really at the beginning of building these therapeutic approaches, these types of therapeutic approaches," he says.

The second project headed by Greene targets an inflammation effect associated with HIV that kills off key immune cells in the body; ultimately resulting in the development of AIDS. His team is now testing an existing class of anti-inflammatory drugs.

"To break this cycle of cell death, inflammation, recruitment of new cells for new rounds of death and inflammation," says Greene.

He believes the strategy could work in tandem with existing HIV drugs, or perhaps produce a low cost alternative for use in developing countries, which have some of the highest rates of HIV infections.

A third Gladstone member Shomi Sanjabi, PhD., is the recipient of a New Innovator award targeting younger researchers making an impact in the fight against AIDS.


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