FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mary Pavlu, Program Communications Manager
amfAR Awards Support Promising Young HIV Researchers
Krim Fellowships cultivate new scientific talent with fresh
approaches to HIV/AIDS research
NEW YORK, Dec. 5 2019 --- amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has announced the 2019 recipients of the Mathilde Krim Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Research. Named in honor of amfAR Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim, the Krim Fellowship program supports early career scientists pursuing innovative solutions to HIV/AIDS. The two Krim Fellows – Maolin Lu, Ph.D., at Yale University, New Haven, CT, and Shaheed Abdulhaqq, Ph.D., at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR – will each be awarded $150,000 over two years.
“Through the Mathilde Krim Fellowships, amfAR has committed more than $8 million since 2008 to support the development and the work of outstanding young HIV/AIDS researchers,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s Chief Executive Officer. “These annual awards enable us to continually infuse the field with youthful vigor, exceptional talent, and new ideas.”
Dr. Lu is a structural biologist and a recognized expert in the use of state-of-the-art imaging techniques that can interrogate single molecules. Dr. Lu recently published a groundbreaking study in Nature that upended the HIV vaccine field. Previously, vaccinologists had used a lab-made version of the HIV envelope protein, Env, to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies that could prevent or treat HIV infection. Using these imaging techniques, including fluorescent signals to detect the proximity of nearby molecules, Dr. Lu was able to show that this version of Env wasn’t an accurate model after all.
Working under her mentor Dr. Walther Mothes, she will build on her study to map the exact sequence of structural changes when Env fuses to a target cell. Understanding how these proteins on the HIV surface change upon encountering host cells may advance the development of powerful new broadly neutralizing antibodies and antiretroviral therapies.
Dr. Abdulhaqq, working in the lab of his mentor Dr. Jonah Sacha, is testing a hypothesis that may have implications for an HIV cure. A 2011 study of a vaccine administered before infection found that more than half of the study animals infected with the HIV-like virus SIV eventually cleared the virus. However, there was no protection if the vaccine was given only after infection.
Dr. Abdulhaqq will investigate what prevents vaccine-induced immune cells called CD 8 T cells from being effective therapeutically once infection has been established. He hypothesizes that vaccine-induced T cells for prevention targeted the gut, whereas they need to target persistent reservoirs of HIV in other tissues in order to have a therapeutic effect. Using a gene therapy approach, he plans to modify CD8 T cells to make them like vaccine-induced cells and direct them, with the addition of a homing protein, to the HIV reservoirs where infected cells hide.
“The Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research are an important and enduring legacy of amfAR’s Founding Chairman,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research. “Through these awards, we remain committed to identifying and supporting talented early career scientists who have the skills and vision to lead us to new breakthroughs and further progress toward ending the AIDS epidemic.”
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 nearly $550 million in its programs and has awarded more than 3,300 grants to research teams worldwide.