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Advancing Science: Donors Help Save Lives

The AIDS virus is a clever one, and a cure has eluded scientists for 30 years. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center is committed to developing a vaccine that works. Combined with private gifts from many other supporters who are passionate about improving health and ending disease, the $6 million Gates grant brings the total Yerkes has raised through Campaign Emory to more than $24 million. Fund-raising for the center’s life-saving work continues.

“We rely on private donations to not only supplement the funding we receive from the National Institutes of Health, but also to accelerate our pace of discovery,” says Yerkes Director Stuart Zola. “The earlier the intervention, the better, and private donations are critical for helping us make this possible.

Backed by the Gates Foundation grant, Yerkes immunologist Bali Pulendran (pictured above) and a team of researchers are studying whether microscopic particles can trigger the body's immune system to fight HIV. Pulendran, principal investigator of the grant, leads the team, which comprises researchers from Yerkes and the Emory Vaccine Center. Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center, is co-principal investigator.

The team will use vaccine technology Pulendran and his Emory colleague Sudhir Kasturi developed. The grant will allow the researchers to optimize their approach for an AIDS vaccine and test the vaccine’s ability to provide immune protection in a nonhuman primate model of HIV infection.

Private gifts to Yerkes provide seed money for this kind of innovative research. Seed money enables Yerkes researchers to develop promising ideas until they meet the criteria to attract major grants from private foundations and government funders such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Yerkes researcher Larry Young, chief of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatric disorders, has been well funded by the NIH for his long-standing research program in the social neuroscience of bonding, but private gifts are furthering his current work to understand and treat social disorders. Among the donors is the Autism Speaks Foundation, which has invested $450,000 in Young’s efforts to study oxytocin’s role in social cognition and interaction, key in developing treatments and a cure for autism.

Individuals are just as key as foundations in supporting research. Bill Dobes 65C 69M 70MR, who served as chair of Campaign Emory for Yerkes and is a Yerkes Director’s Circle member, has made a gift to the research center in honor of his family. Eight other members of the Yerkes Director’s Circle have made private gifts as well. These members include Carol and Gene McGrevin, who are supporting Yerkes with a generous unrestricted gift, and Lisa Bronson, who is committed to making unrestricted annual gifts to the Yerkes Fund for Excellence, which provides flexible support that allows Zola to invest in strategic but unfunded priorities throughout the year.

The center is also fortunate that its employees are supporting center research through the MyEmory employee-giving campaign. Employee donors are meeting a match challenge that Zola issued in May 2012.

As federal funding becomes more difficult to secure for research, Yerkes is reaching out to private sources of support. Private philanthropy is increasingly important in facilitating scientific advancements at Yerkes.

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Yerkes National Primate Research Center Volunteer Campaign Chair:

William L. Dobes Jr. 65C 69M 70MR