Researchers at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) received a federal grant totaling more than $27 million over five years to focus on building structural models of HIV that will help guide the development of therapies and vaccines.
The newly formed Duke Center for HIV Structural Biology at DHVI will become one of the few such centers in the U.S. funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
“With this funding, we will create detailed three-dimensional models that will help us understand how HIV enters host cells, engages the host immune system, and how it lies dormant within the host during antiretroviral therapy only to rebound when the therapy is withdrawn,” said Priyamvada Acharya, Ph.D., associate professor in the departments of Surgery and Biochemistry and the project’s principal investigator.
“Such detailed models can greatly enhance our understanding of the virus and help us develop better ways to prevent and treat HIV infection,” Acharya said.
Acharya said the new DHVI center will focus on three pursuits:
- Detailing the multiple steps that occur when HIV enters the body, with special emphasis on identifying several short-lived stages that have proven elusive and appear integral to the process. This project is led by Rory Henderson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke.
- Building a model of how the surface of a B cell, an important immune responder, displays the receptor that interacts with antigens on viral and bacterial pathogens. This will help researchers better understand how pathogen-derived antigens interact and activate the immune system to generate antibodies. The project lead is S. Munir Alam, Ph.D., professor in the departments of Medicine and Pathology at Duke.
- Determining how the autologous neutralizing antibody response to the HIV Envelope protein can be used to block viral rebound and achieve a functional cure. Janet Siliciano, Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is leading this project.
For each of the three research efforts, the Duke Center for HIV Structural Biology team will use cutting edge structural, computational and immunobiology methods. The Center will also include a developmental component led by Maria Blasi, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, that will provide a training and mentoring environment, as well as funds and research opportunities for early career researchers.
“These projects are essential to better understand how the immune system responds to and mounts a defense against HIV-1 infection,” said Barton Haynes, M.D., director of DHVI. “The knowledge gained from these sorts of models advances the field of HIV vaccine development and the field of immunology more broadly. We are excited about the recognition and support of this research.”