NIDA has selected four scientists for its 2009 Avant-Garde Award for HIV/AIDS research. The annual competition, now in its second year, is intended to stimulate groundbreaking research for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in drug abusers. Awardees receive $500,000 per year, plus associated facilities and administrative costs, for 5 years to support their research.
The four awardees and their proposed projects are:
- Benjamin K. Chen, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, has developed an imaging method that enables in vivo visualization of fluorescently tagged HIV virus particles. By using this tool in mice in which the immune system has been altered to resemble that of people, Dr. Chen and colleagues will study the sequence of interactions between HIV-infected cells and uninfected cells. The team's goal is to answer long-standing questions about the mechanisms of viral transmission between cells and to provide strategies for development of vaccines or other therapies to inhibit these interactions.
- Dana H. Gabuzda, M.D., is a professor of neurology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Dr. Gabuzda has conducted NIDA-supported studies on HIV pathogenesis and how substance abuse contributes to it. She now plans to investigate why only some HIV-infected individuals on antiretroviral drugs achieve long-lasting viral suppression and recovery of immune function, including normal numbers of CD4T cells. The research proposed by Dr. Gabuzda aims to improve understanding of the mechanisms that determine CD4T cell restoration in HIV-infected populations, including intravenous drug users, and thereby identify new therapies to restore immune function.
- Jonathan Karn, Ph.D., is a professor and chairman of molecular biology and microbiology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Although most individuals treated with antiretroviral drugs have little to no detectable HIV in their blood, the virus has not necessarily been cleared from the body. The proposed research will focus on finding natural mechanisms that could provide long-lasting suppression of HIV replication to prevent renewed active infections if the virus re-emerges.
- Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, Ph.D., co-director and scientific director of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Port St. Lucie, Florida, studies human immunology, focusing on the immune response to HIV infection. Dr. Sekaly proposes to examine the HIV-1 reservoir, a small pool of long-lived, infected, immune system cells, and explore potential means to purge the virus from that hiding place. These studies could lead to novel immunological treatments that eradicate the HIV-1 reservoir and contribute to a cure for AIDS.