News Feature | June 11, 2014

NIH Awards Scripps Research $13M Grant To Develop AIDS Vaccine

By Estel Grace Masangkay

A research team from the The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has been awarded a grant of over $13 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease of the National Institutes of Health to research antibodies that could lead to the development of a vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The project is titled “High Resolution Analysis of Env-directed B Cells to Accelerate Vaccine Design” and will focus on building antibodies to the virus and investigating their neutralizing capacity.

HIV has been a challenging disease to develop vaccines against due to its unusual structure that helps it escape detection by the body’s immune system. However, a small group of HIV patients show an effective immune response to HIV. The B cells in these patients’ immune system produce antibodies that can neutralize a broad range of HIV strains. These broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNABs), though not able to stop infections in HIV-affected patients, could help researchers design a potent vaccine against the deadly disease.

The TSRI team will work with co-investigators at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm to identify the best way to elicit neutralizing antibodies following vaccination. The team will immunize animal models with engineered viral surface proteins to prompt an immune response. The Karolinska group will assess the elicited immune responses at the molecular level. The TSRI team led by Richard Wyatt, a TSRI professor of immunology and director of viral immunology for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI, will analyze blood serum samples for signs of bNABs.

These bNABs will be further investigated using epitope mapping under the leadership of TSRI Assistant Professor Yuxing Li to see how the antibodies interact with the virus. “Now is the time to really impact the field with the next generation of surface proteins, or immunogens, that induce a broadly effective immune response to HIV,” said Assistant Professor Li.

TSRI is one of the largest independent, not-for-profit biomedical science research organizations in the world and has gained international recognition for its foundational work in treatments against cancer, hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases.

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