A team of medical researchers from three Seattle research facilities recently received a grant of over $15 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue the hunt for vaccines against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of AIDS. This four-and-a-half year grant is funded by the National Institutes of Health as part of its mission to increase basic knowledge of the pathogenesis, natural history and transmission of HIV.
Dr. Shiu-lok Hu, professor of pharmaceutics in the UW School of Pharmacy and head of AIDS-related research at the Washington National Primate Research Center, is the principal investigator of the four-pronged study. He will coordinate the efforts of the teams based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) and the UW. The researchers and their projects are:
- Dr. Julie Overbaugh, associate director of the Division of Human Biology at Fred Hutchinson, will dissect the biological and immunological properties of viruses transmitted from mothers to infants, and identify those properties best suited for HIV vaccine development.
- Dr. Nancy L. Haigwood, director of the Viral Vaccines Program at SBRI, will study mechanisms by which immune responses broaden during live virus infection. She will apply insights from these studies to the design of vaccine strategies to induce broadly protective immunity against different HIV strains.
- Dr. Leonidas Stamatatos, an associate member of SBRI, will focus his research on the design of viral antigens that elicit cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies. These will be compared for their protective potential.
- Hu, together with Dr. John Morrow of the Washington National Primate Research Center and Dr. Murali-Krishna Kaja, assistant professor of immunology at the UW, will conduct systematic studies of vaccination strategies and the underlying mechanisms by which these vaccines elicit immunity. This further extends earlier findings by Hu, showing that the best immune responses can be elicited by a combination vaccine approach, utilizing different immunization modalities, such as DNA, virus-vectored and protein-based immunogens.
“Our work will be focused primarily on the design and pre-clinical evaluation of vaccines and vaccination approaches,” Hu said. “The failure of the first candidate vaccine, as shown in the only Phase III clinical trials conducted after almost 15 years of development, highlights the need for further basic research. There are still many critical questions in HIV biology and vaccine design that must be answered before we know how to develop an effective vaccine. This grant will allow us to address some of these questions in a multi-disciplinary and concerted manner.”
The grant will encompass investigators from other institutions, including the Oregon National Primate Research Center, Duke University and NIAID.