GW researchers named leaders in $28 million HIV project

GW was selected to lead 18 institutions with a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to use immunotherapy advances to develop a cure for HIV, according to a University release.

The research will be funded with a $28 million grant. Researchers said in the release that the cell therapy approach will focus on strengthening immune systems to eliminate the virus.

“We are happy and humbled to have been selected as one of the recipients of this important award,” Douglas Nixon, lead researcher on the grant and chair of the department of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said in the release. “We have gathered together a diverse group of researchers, who are all driven by the belief that a cure will depend on enhancing natural anti-HIV immunity, and that finding a cure must be accomplished in a fully participatory stakeholder fashion.”

The project is titled “Bench to Bed Enhanced Lymphocyte Infusions to Engineer Viral Eradication.” The goal of the research is to enhance the killing ability of HIV-specific killer T-cells.

BELIEVE will partner with Altor Bioscience Corporation, which has created a drug that can enhance the immune system’s ability to kill HIV cells. Researchers will also partner with Torque, a biomedical engineering company with the technology to deliver drugs to the infected cells that the researchers will use to clear the HIV viral reservoir.

The Martin Delaney Collaboratory program, which gave the grant, creates public-private partnerships for HIV/AIDS research. Current HIV strategies are limited because they cannot completely clear infected cells, according to the release.

“We know that through this strategic collaboration with our research partners and a commitment to finding a cure, we will move closer to reaching our goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS,” Nixon said in the release.

Nixon, along with Catherine Bollard, the chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health System and professor of pediatrics and microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine, Alan Greenberg, the director of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and Brad Jones, an assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine, will serve on the BELIEVE executive committee.

GW will work alongside 18 other institutions on the research, both nationally and internationally. Among the other institutions involved in the collaboration are NIH, Harvard University, the University of Toronto, the University of São Paulo, Brazil and Georgetown University.

The studies will be conducted with local clinics associated with these institutions in Canada, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S.

“Long before we begin clinical trials, we will create local community advisory boards in each participating area so there is ownership of the research, and continued communication, engagement, and understanding of what’s going on, especially for the large community of people living with HIV in D.C.,” Martha Sichone Cameron, the director of prevention at the Women’s Collective and member of the Community Advisory Board of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research, said in the release.

Jones, a member of the executive committee, said in the release that he created the acronym for the project and was inspired by a friend of his who is living with HIV.

“This individual had followed HIV research quite closely, but at that moment told me that he no longer believed that HIV could be cured,” Jones said in the release. “We feel that recent advances in immunotherapy, such as those that have transformed the treatment of cancer, provide a strong basis for hope that curing HIV is possible.” 

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