The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR, announced Monday that it will provide $20 million in funding to support researchers at UCSF, as well as other research institutions, to establish an institute aiming to develop a cure for HIV.
The virtual institute — composed of experts from UCSF, the Gladstone Institutes for Virology and Immunology, the Blood Systems Research Institute and other collaborators, including UC Berkeley — was the sole winner of the grant, which will be distributed over a period of five years.
The institute is a major part of amfAR’s $100 million investment plan to find a cure for HIV, a virus that approximately 35 million people live with worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
“The San Francisco area has a higher concentration of scientific thought leaders in HIV than anywhere else in the world,” said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Rowena Johnston in an amfAR press release. “The Bay Area has consistently led the way in developing and implementing scientific advances in HIV prevention and treatment.”
Currently, infected cells are kept dormant through the use of antiretroviral medicine, but the institute hopes to find a functional cure by eliminating the need for a lifelong dependency on such drugs.
The team will use a method known as “shock and kill,” in which the researchers will intentionally activate HIV infected cells in order to kill them off. A form of immune genes called Toll-like receptors will then be used to turn a patient’s innate immune system against the virus, according to Warner Greene, a UCSF professor and a project leader on the research team.
The institute will follow CURE, an approach to curing HIV that involves charting and measuring the virus, understanding potential pathways where shock and kill can be implemented, recording how to locate latent HIV-infected cells and eliminating the virus in affected people through clinical trials.
Many of the researchers have been studying HIV for more than 30 years.
“The grant allows us to bring together labs that are working independently into a much more cohesive whole,” said Mike McCune, a UCSF professor and project leader on the research team.
On Tuesday — World AIDS day — the principal investigator and project leaders held a summit at UCSF for members of the scientific community and people from the greater Bay Area who are either infected or affected by HIV.
“I want people to be able to walk into a healthy life and not have people take these medications for the rest of their life,” McCune said. “That means a lot to me scientifically, clinically and personally.”
“Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].”