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Vaccine center receives $7 million as part of major HIV/AIDS focus

A seven-year initiative funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will focus an intensive national effort on developing a vaccine against HIV and AIDS. Emory University will receive approximately $7 million for its part of the project.

The new Centers for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID), funded by a projected total of $186 million, will be directed by the Scripps Research Institute and Duke University. Supporting the Scripps Research Institute will be primary scientific leaders at Emory, the Rockefeller University/Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Ragon Institute.

Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, will lead Emory’s project and will collaborate with Bali Pulendran, Emory professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Guido Silvestri, chief of microbiology and immunology at Yerkes and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. All are members of the Emory Center for AIDS Research.

The goal of CHAVI-ID is to accelerate HIV vaccine development by supporting multidisciplinary research into immune responses that prevent or contain HIV infection and by generating model vaccine components that can induce these protective immune responses.

"Despite the development of lifesaving drugs, the HIV/AIDS epidemic still remains a tremendous challenge, with 34 million infected individuals throughout the world. Our greatest hope for stopping this disease remains an effective vaccine," says Ahmed. "The intensive approach of CHAVI-ID will give us an excellent chance of accomplishing that."

In the Scripps-led component of CHAVI-ID, researchers at Scripps and the Rockefeller Institute will lead the project’s first focus, centering on B cell and antibody studies. The second focus, led by Ahmed, along with Bruce Walker, PhD, at the Ragon Institute and colleagues at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, will center on CD4+ T cell studies.

A successful HIV vaccine needs to elicit protective antibodies, but the development of most neutralizing antibody responses is dependent on CD4+ T cells, with control by follicular helper CD4+ T (Tfh) cells.

In the Emory project, Ahmed and Pulendran will work together to understand the mechanisms of Tfh cell generation after immunization with HIV envelope (ENV) proteins and to identify adjuvants that can enhance these T helper cells and also induce potent responses by B cells (antibody-producing cells). Their work will include a powerful nanoparticle vaccine approach that was pioneered in Pulendran’s laboratory. Silvestri will perform immunization studies in nonhuman primates at Yerkes to further define the complex immune response to the HIV virus and to potential vaccine components.

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