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June 16, 2009

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NIAID Invites Applications to Conduct Basic Research on HIV Persistence

Studies Key to Search for a Cure

To build the foundation for developing a cure for HIV infection, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is soliciting proposals for basic research designed to uncover how HIV persists in people taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Each application must describe how the proposed study could directly inform the design of an effective treatment strategy for curing HIV infection.

The amount of money allocated for this initiative, called Basic Research on HIV Persistence, will depend on the number, duration and cost of highly meritorious applications received. Some of the funds will come from the $1.12 billion allocated to NIAID through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

HAART, which involves powerful cocktails of three or more anti-HIV drugs, has succeeded in allowing many people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives. It accomplishes this by blocking HIV replication, causing the level of HIV in the blood to drop to extremely low, often undetectable, levels. Despite this progress, HAART has been unable to fully eliminate HIV from the body. In fact, in studies of people who achieved very low viral levels with HAART and then stopped taking the treatment, HIV invariably returned in their blood—often to the high point it had reached before they began HAART.

These observations have led scientists to conclude that one of the main obstacles to a cure for HIV is that the virus forms pockets of latent infection in certain cells and tissues, and antiretroviral drugs have no effect on the virus when it is in this latent state. Scientists need to know more about where these HIV “reservoirs” are located and how they are established and maintained.

The new initiative is the first in a series of NIAID funding opportunities for research that illuminates the basic mechanisms of HIV persistence and then uses this information to develop ways to control or eliminate cells carrying latent HIV, thereby curing people of the virus. A cure could involve either complete eradication of HIV from the body—a sterilizing cure—or the shrinkage of HIV reservoirs to the point where virus levels remain undetectable even in the absence of HAART—a functional cure.

NIAID will accept applications to the Basic Research on HIV Persistence program through January 8, 2012.

In addition to this new program, NIH may award one or more Challenge Grants this summer to scientists who will study HIV persistence with funds from the Recovery Act. Applications for these grants were accepted through April 27, 2009, and were solicited in two areas of inquiry relevant to HIV persistence. One area involves defining the pockets of latent HIV infection, developing cellular models that mimic the properties of these viral reservoirs, and demonstrating the feasibility of using these models in laboratory studies to identify ways of selectively targeting and eliminating the reservoirs. The other area involves basic research very similar to that solicited by the Basic Research on HIV Persistence program.

Some activities described in this release are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). More information about NIH’s ARRA grant funding opportunities can be found at To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit

Media inquiries can be directed to the NIAID Office of Communications at 301-402-1663,

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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Last Updated June 16, 2009