amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research


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Awards include a new round of Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research

NEW YORK, March 21, 2022 — amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has awarded more than half a million dollars in funding across four research projects pursuing inventive approaches to the treatment and cure of HIV.

“These grants and fellowships reflect the vibrancy of HIV research and the wide range of innovative strategies being pursued to end the epidemic,” amfAR's Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost said. “We’re thrilled to support such a diverse and extremely talented group of researchers who reflect our unswerving commitment to curing HIV and making AIDS history.”

Anjie Zhen, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, will focus on CAR-T cell therapy to eliminate HIV in a patient's body. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells have proven highly effective in the treatment of a variety of cancers. These T cells are genetically altered to seek out and destroy pathogens such as cancer or HIV. They have been less successful in the treatment of HIV in large part because over time they become exhausted and ineffective.

In a previous study, Dr. Zhen found that autophagy–the natural process through which the body cleans debris out of cells–can both enhance the ability of CAR-T cells to fight HIV and reduce the toxicity of latency-reversing agents (LRAs) used to force HIV out of hiding. With a $100,000 grant provided by amfAR, Dr. Zhen and her team plan to identify the most effective autophagy-inducing drugs and use them in combination with CAR-T cells and an LRA in an effort to eliminate HIV infection.

In addition, three Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Biomedical Research will help boost the careers of talented young scientists. amfAR's Krim Fellowships are named for the organization's Founding Chairman and provide two years of support to postdoctoral researchers pursuing HIV/AIDS research.

The fellowships will support Sebastian Fuchs, Ph.D., of the University of Miami in Florida; Leila Giron, Ph.D., of The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia; and Jeannette Tenthorey, Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Each grantee receives $150,000 over two years.

Antibodies are a promising treatment or potential component of a cure for HIV, but they are expensive and must be dosed repeatedly. German-born Dr. Fuchs and his mentor Dr. Ron Desrosiers have been working on a gene therapy approach to delivering the instructions for making specific antibodies so that a person's body could make an indefinite supply of them. One challenge is that the immune system can generate responses against these antibodies and destroy them before they can exert their beneficial effects. Dr. Fuchs will attempt to induce immune tolerance of the foreign antibodies by either repeatedly exposing the immune system to the antibodies themselves, or by recruiting red blood cells to convey a message of tolerance to the immune system. His results may improve our ability to deliver antibodies as therapy not only for HIV, but across a wide range of diseases.

A native of Brazil, Dr. Leila Giron, of Philadelphia's The Wistar Institute, seeks to analyze the role of cell metabolism in HIV persistence. Dr. Giron has data suggesting the process of cell metabolism can affect the ability of the virus to reactivate, and that some components of the process can even predict whether, and for how long, a person can control HIV without antiretroviral therapy. She plans to delve into the relationship between this metabolic process and the ability to control HIV.

Dr. Tenthorey's research focuses largely on TRIM5alpha, an antiviral protein that restricts HIV. As a Krim Fellow, Dr. Tenthorey will investigate further the process through which TRIM5alpha binds to HIV and alters the uncoating process necessary for a virus to infect a cell. While HIV has evolved to avoid the action of TRIM5alpha, better understanding this process could lead to therapies that would allow the human body to block the virus.

“The announcement of a new round of Mathilde Krim Fellowships is a highlight of our research calendar each year,” amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnson said. “The Krim Fellowships are a fitting tribute to the pioneering spirit of our late founding chairman and an excellent means of nurturing the HIV research leaders of tomorrow.”

About amfAR

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 $600 million in its programs and has awarded more than 3,500 grants to research teams worldwide.