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August 26, 2011

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NIAID Funds New Consortia for AIDS Vaccine Research

Studies Will Focus on Earliest Stages of HIV Infection

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a total of approximately $12 million per year for up to five years to Emory University in Atlanta and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), part of Harvard University in Boston, to co-lead research designed to understand the events that occur at the earliest stages of mucosal HIV infection and how those events can be blocked or mediated by vaccine-induced immune responses. The new grants were issued through NIAID’s Consortia for AIDS Vaccine Research in Nonhuman Primates program.

More than 90 percent of HIV infections worldwide occur via a mucosal route, mainly through genital sex. In recent years, the initial stages of HIV infection have emerged as an increasingly important area of research because of the crucial interactions that take place between the virus and human host during this time. A vaccine that can block these initial steps of mucosal infection may prevent HIV from taking hold and causing disease.

These early interactions take place in a short time frame, making them difficult to study in humans. Because rhesus macaques infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the monkey equivalent of HIV, have similar clinical outcomes to humans infected with HIV, and because humans and macaques have comparable anatomies and immune systems, these monkeys are commonly used as a model for HIV/AIDS research. Through the new consortia, researchers will explore the early immune responses to SIV infection in macaques to glean insights into what happens during the early stages of HIV infection in humans. That information will then be used to develop human HIV vaccine candidates that can block infection, prevent the establishment of latent infection, or significantly reduce the adverse effects of infection.

The Emory program, led by principal investigator Eric Hunter, Ph.D., co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory’s School of Medicine, will consist of four projects examining the mechanisms by which several simian vaccine candidates offer protection and whether this protection can be enhanced, for example, by adding a vaccine adjuvant. The research will be conducted primarily at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory. Other collaborators on the project include Louisiana State University Health Science Center, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology and the Nebraska Center for Virology at the University of Nebraska.

The BIDMC consortium will be led by co-principal investigators Dan H. Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Vaccine Research at BIDMC and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and R. Paul Johnson, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the New England Primate Research Center and Harvard Medical School. Their research program will consist of five projects designed to explore the mechanisms by which macaques are protected from SIV infection by either vector-based or live, attenuated SIV vaccines, or by monoclonal antibodies. Collaborating institutions include Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), the Scripps Research Institute, the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania, the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute (a component of OHSU) , the University of Massachusetts Medical School and SAIC Frederick, Inc.

For more information on these grants, please see the original funding announcement, released in April 2010. For more information about NIAID’s HIV/AIDS research, please visit the NIAID HIV/AIDS portal.

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 August 26, 2011

Last Reviewed August 26, 2011