Emory Report

March 20, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 25

VRC team to bike for AIDS vaccine

By Holly Korschun

Fifteen scientists, students and staff members from the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) will venture far afield from their laboratories this summer to join the 510-mile Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride to raise money for AIDS vaccine research.

Proceeds from the six-day ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Aug. 21­26, which will attract participants from throughout the world, will be used to support cutting-edge research toward the development of an AIDS vaccine.

Three research centers will benefit equally from the Alaska ride: the Emory VRC, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York (directed by David Ho) and the UCLA AIDS Institute (directed by Irvin Chen). The event is organized by Pallotta TeamWorks of Los Angeles, organizers of the AIDSRides USA, which has provided AIDS charities around the world with more than $67 million over the last six years.

To participate in the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, each member of Team Vaccine must raise a minimum of $3,900.

While Team Vaccine will focus on generating contributions from individuals, Emory's development office is working to identify potential corporate donors.

Through participation in the Alaska Ride, the Emory team will demonstrate that they are personally, as well as professionally, committed to overcoming this disease, said cycle team leader Jeff Safrit. Also participating is Mark Feinberg, associate director of the Emory/Atlanta Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

Safrit said the VRC could receive more than $1 million. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently the primary reservoir of public funding for AIDS vaccine research. However investigators in search of "seed money" must often turn initially to private funding sources.

"It's a catch-22 for investigators who have a novel idea for an AIDS vaccine," said Safrit, who is studying specific components of the cellular immune response to HIV infection during different stages of the disease. "NIH typically won't support their research unless they have preliminary data-but they can't generate those data unless they have funding to start a research program."

Unlike applying for research grants, the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride is not a competitive race. Riders of many different ages and athletic abilities will participate. Each rider works with a "ride guide" who becomes a personal coach, cheerleader and resource throughout the training period. Riders will be accompanied by transport vehicles and technical support in case they encounter difficulties along the route.

Lunches and snacks are provided along the way, and each night participants will sleep in a mobile "tent city," complete with catered meals and hot showers.

Money raised through the vaccine ride will go primarily to seed funding to launch promising new research projects, as well as to enabling "leapfrog" progress that speeds the research process.

With the dedication of the new VRC building last October, Emory underscored its commitment to the fight to eliminate or control the deadly infectious diseases that continue to plague millions of individuals around the globe, including HIV.

The Vaccine Research Center has assembled a group of the nation's most respected immunologists and virologists in one of the largest centers ever created to forge new vaccine strategies.

"The center's mission is to create new technologies that will make some of the world's most challenging health problems, including AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, influenza and respiratory viruses, a thing of the past," said Rafi Ahmed, VRC director. Ahmed and his wife and son will participate in the bike ride.

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