GW Receives Martin Delaney Grant for HIV Cure Research

University researchers will lead 17 public and private partners in the effort sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

hiv research grant
September 23, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

George Washington University researchers have received a five-year Martin Delaney Collaboratory grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new strategies to cure HIV, with first-year funding totaling $5.7 million and similar funds planned for each of the subsequent years.

The team will apply immunotherapy advances that focus on improving and reprogramming a patient’s immune system, such as have recently been applied to fight cancer, and apply these new techniques to boost current “kick and kill” HIV cure strategies. The “kick and kill” method wakes up a latent virus and destroys it. By combining these methods, researchers will try to reduce or eliminate the body’s reservoirs of the HIV virus. By destroying the reservoir, a person would be effectively cured of HIV.

The grant is part of the second iteration of the NIH’s Martin Delaney Collaboratory program, which fosters public and private partnerships to accelerate HIV/AIDS cure research. Mr. Delaney was a well-known AIDS activist before his death in 2009. GW will work with 17 partners, labs and institutions on this research.

“We are happy and humbled to have been selected as one of the recipients of this important award,” said Douglas Nixon, principal investigator and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “We have gathered together a diverse group of researchers, who are all driven by the belief that a cure will depend on enhancing natural anti-HIV immunity and that finding a cure must be accomplished in a fully participatory stakeholder fashion.”

The project is named “Bench to Bed Enhanced Lymphocyte Infusions to Engineer Viral Eradication (BELIEVE).” BELIEVE’s initial research goals are:

  • Enhancing the killing ability of HIV-specific killer T-cells
  • Augmenting natural killer cell functions
  • Harnessing T-cell, natural killer cell and antibody-mediated effectors in both adult and pediatric HIV infections

“We know that through this strategic collaboration with our research partners and a commitment to finding a cure, we will move closer to reaching our goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS,” Dr. Nixon said.

Leo M. Chalupa, vice president for research at GW, said Dr. Nixon is "a world leader in the field of infectious disease research.”

"By awarding this grant, NIH has recognized his long track record of success and the strength of his proposed research project to study new approaches to curing AIDS,” Dr. Chalupa said.

Dr. Nixon, along with Catherine Bollard, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health System and professor of pediatrics and microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at SMHS; Alan E. Greenberg, director of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Milken Institute School of Public Health; and Brad Jones, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at SMHS, will serve as members of the BELIEVE’s executive committee.

“At the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, HIV/AIDS research has been one of our highest priorities. Curing HIV/AIDS will require a team effort, and we are thrilled to partner with the Milken Institute School of Public Health; our clinical partner, Children’s National Health System; and the many institutions involved in BELIEVE,” said Jeffrey S. Akman, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine and dean of SMHS. “We are working with the best and brightest to make significant steps in finding a cure.”

Connecting with HIV/AIDS patients in the D.C. area is also a priority for GW. Researchers plan to create local advisory boards in each participating area, particularly in regions with high rates of HIV. Washington, D.C., has one of the most severe urban HIV epidemics in the United States.  A person living in D.C. has a one in 13 chance of being diagnosed with HIV during his or her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Through community engagement, we also hope to ensure diverse participation. Doctors and researchers must work hand-in-hand with community members for this research to be successful,” said Martha Sichone Cameron, director of prevention at the Women’s Collective and member of the Community Advisory Board of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research.

The various partner institutions and labs will receive portions of the multimillion dollar award.

Institutions involved in the GW-led effort are Children's National Health System; NIH; Howard University; University of Arizona; University of Pittsburgh; Brigham Young University; University of Minnesota; Johns Hopkins University; Seattle Children's Hospital; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University; University of Pennsylvania; Georgetown University; and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The international institutions involved are University of Toronto; Simon Fraser University, British Columbia; Centro de Investigación en Enfermedades Infecciosas, Mexico City; and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Studies will be conducted in concert with communities at local clinics and agencies associated with these institutions in Canada, Brazil, Mexico and the United States.