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January 28, 2016.
amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, has awarded nearly $1 million each, over four years, to Harvard physicist David Weitz, PhD, and bioengineer and polymer scientist Alexander Zelikin, PhD, of Aarhus University in Denmark. The two will work to eradicate the viral reservoir that is considered the principal barrier to curing HIV. Weitz and Zelikin will collaborate with leading AIDS researchers Bruce Walker, PhD, at Harvard and Martin Tolstrup, PhD, at Aarhus University.
The awards are the latest to be funded by amfAR through its $100 million Countdown to a Cure for AIDS initiative. The goal of the initiative is to develop a scientific basis for a cure by 2020. The grants were awarded to scientists from backgrounds unrelated to AIDS research, meant to spur innovative approaches to eradicating the viral reservoir.
Weitz, PhD, the Mallinckrodt professor of physics and applied physics at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, is an expert in the field of microfluidics. Weitz has developed a technique that uses fluid mechanics to isolate killer T-cells. He proposes to isolate these cells from patient samples, clone them in a petri dish, and use a mouse model to test whether the reinjection of these killer cells can lead to a functional cure of HIV.
Zelikin, PhD, is an expert in prodrugs, which he plans to use to eliminate the HIV reservoir. The project will design a two-component cocktail. One prodrug will be developed to reawaken the latent HIV using a drug that Martin Tolstrup, PhD, a virologist and HIV expert, has shown to be effective in patients. The second prodrug will be designed to initiate the killing of virally infected cells. Acting in tandem, the two prodrugs administered together are poised to activate the latent viral reservoir and kill the cells harboring HIV.