amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Valiant Efforts to Save HIV Research at NYU During Hurricane Sandy

NYU-RiverNew York University’s Langone Medical Center, overlooking Manhattan’s East River Hurricane Sandy’s 14-foot storm surge caused massive flooding at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, a complex of buildings overlooking Manhattan’s East River. While television footage captured the dramatic evacuation of more than 200 hospital patients, it didn’t convey the disastrous effects of the storm and ensuing power outages on many of NYU’s prestigious research laboratories.  Among them were the labs of veteran AIDS researchers and former amfAR grantees Dr. Ned Landau and Dr. Derya Unutmaz.  

“Throughout this time, everyone who was affected—hundreds of students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty members—worked tirelessly, nonstop, in a truly heroic effort to save decades worth of research,” said Dr. Unutmaz. “We spent all of our waking time from Tuesday through Saturday night hauling dry ice and liquid nitrogen up ten floors to stock our freezers and save thousands of our precious frozen cells and other samples.  The situation was especially taxing since diesel fuel in the basement was breached and the building was heavily contaminated with fumes.” 

The Joan and Joel Smilow Research Center, where his lab is housed, fared the worst of all buildings on the campus.  Dr. Landau, whose 1996 discovery of the CCR5 HIV co-receptor was a landmark in AIDS research, is also based in the Smilow building.   “We hope the lab will become functional soon, as our work requires the technical capabilities of the systems we have here and is now significantly delayed,” said Dr. Landau. 

Despite the circumstances, the valiant efforts of all those who labored around the clock during and after the storm were rewarded.  “We managed to save almost all our cells, including those from HIV-positive donors as well as those from other diseases,” said Dr. Unutmaz.  While the lab unfortunately lost all of its HIV virus stocks as well as precious research mice, Dr. Unutmaz and his colleagues remain optimistic. “We are not deterred by this tremendous catastrophe and, in fact, are even more motivated and determined than ever to quickly rebuild and continue our research.”