Two new NIH grants to support research targeting biggest roadblock to AIDS cure

Two new NIH grants to support research targeting biggest roadblock to AIDS cure
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J. Victor Garcia
Two new NIH grants to support research targeting biggest roadblock to AIDS cure
click to enlarge
Angela Kashuba

Media Contact: Lisa Chensvold, 919-843-5719, lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu

April 2, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Researchers at the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases have been awarded approximately $7 million to develop treatments that target HIV reservoirs.

Despite powerful and life-saving drug treatments, HIV continues to replicate at low levels in the body, and once treatment stops, the virus quickly rebounds. Called the “residual active viral reservoir” or “persistent reservoir,” these cells represent the single most important obstacle to eradicating HIV from the body.

The funding, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the National Institutes of Health, is designated to support new ideas for eliminating the cellular reservoirs of HIV that continue to produce virus despite treatment with antiretroviral therapy. UNC, which is home to one of the largest HIV cure initiatives in the world, has received two awards through this funding mechanism.

Angela Kashuba, PharmD, the John A. and Deborah S. McNeil, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and adjunct professor in the UNC School of Medicine, was awarded $4.4 million over five years to study drug penetration in the tissues where the virus lingers. The HIV reservoir may be a consequence of reduced drug penetration into certain tissues and cells. In order to develop and select treatments that will suppress the virus in all tissues and to help inform the work being done to cure HIV, Kashuba and her laboratory will identify which drugs get into tissues best and what mechanisms they use to do so.  

J. Victor Garcia, PhD, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine, has been awarded $2.4 million over five years to develop and implement an innovative, reproducible, and flexible experimental platform for testing and evaluating new protocols to eradicate the residual active HIV reservoir. Humanized bone marrow-liver-thymus (or BLT) mice developed in the Garcia laboratory have previously been validated for the study of HIV latency and persistence. With this grant, Garcia and his team will further characterize and address fundamental questions about the nature of the active reservoir in tissues.

Together, this research will fill critical gaps in our knowledge of the persistent reservoir and may inform future clinical studies aimed at finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Kashuba and Garcia are also members of the UNC-led Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE) and the UNC Center for AIDS Research, where Kashuba directs the Clinical Pharmacology and Analytical Chemistry Core.

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