Emory Report

February 14, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 21

Emory gets $7.5 million grant for AIDS study

By Holly Korshcun

The National Institutes of Health has awarded investigators in the Vaccine Research Center a five-year, $7.5 million program-project grant to develop promising new vaccine strategies to prevent HIV infection. The grant is funded by a new NIH program called "HIV Vaccine Research and Development Teams."

Emory's grant is entitled "New Live Viral Vectors as Candidate AIDS Vaccines." The grant represents a collaborative effort among Vaccine Center investigators, including principal investigator Mark Feinberg, Rafi Ahmed, Silvija Staprans, Jeff Safrit and John Altman, and investigators from the University of Zurich, the University of California at San Francisco and the Pasteur Institute. The Emory-led grant application received the highest ranking by reviewers of any of the applications submitted to the NIH for this program.

"Recently there have been many advances in our basic understanding of how immune responses are generated," said Feinberg, associate professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and associate director of the Emory/Atlanta Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

"Much of that information has come from basic studies conducted in Emory's Vaccine Center," Feinberg said. "We hope to translate that knowledge into safe and effective vaccines to prevent HIV infection. Our research should give us greater insight into making more effective vaccines for other diseases as well."

The Emory investigators will pursue promising ongoing research in which they have chosen live-attenuated vaccines currently used to prevent other infections and adapted them to express HIV antigens. "We hope that the favorable safety, immunogenicity (effectiveness) and convenience of these parent vaccines may be exploited to maximize the safety and immunogenicity of the recombinant HIV vaccines," Feinberg said.

The investigators are using live-attenuated vaccines including the varicella-zoster virus vaccine (used to prevent chicken pox), the measles virus vaccine and the yellow fever virus vaccine. They also plan to develop safer and more effective versions of HIV vaccines based on attenuated strains of vaccinia virus (the vaccine used to eradicate smallpox). Vaccines that use live virus vectors are desirable because they contain powerful viruses that elicit a strong immune response in humans.

Most scientists agree that global control of HIV, which now affects approximately 40 million people worldwide, will be achieved only through widespread availability of a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine. In 1997 the NIH named the development an AIDS vaccine "a global public health imperative," and President Clinton challenged the scientific community to develop an AIDS vaccine within 10 years.

In 1998 the NIH designated and funded Emory/Atlanta CFAR as an official NIH CFAR site. Last October Emory dedicated its new Vaccine Research Building, which provides a focus in immunology and vaccine research for investigators throughout the university and for collaborative scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other area institutions.

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