UR Gets $3.1 Million in NIH Funding for HIV Vaccine Research

UR Gets $3.1 Million in NIH Funding for HIV Vaccine Research

James Kobie, Ph.D.

CREDIT URMC.ROCHESTER.EDU

Researchers at the University of Rochester have won $3.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health in their quest to develop a viable vaccine against HIV.

James Kobie, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and his colleagues are focusing on a specific aspect of the immune system that may be used to encourage the body to reject the AIDS virus. 

Most vaccines prompt the body to produce T cells to attack a virus, but stimulating the production of more T cells could create more targets for the HIV virus – obviously not a desired outcome.

But Kobie explains that B cells could produce antibodies without the help of the T cells that the AIDS virus thrives on.

"We're looking at a specific type of B cell referred to as an IgM positive B cell that is less dependent on CD4 T cell help, and that might be a good, advantageous route to pursue for an HIV vaccine," Kobie said.

Part of the grant funding will be used to test HIV-specific antibodies in tissue from the mouth and rectum, the points at which the HIV virus typically enters the body. Researchers say this study will help them better understand why some HIV vaccines are effective and others are not.

The first HIV vaccine trail was conducted at the University of Rochester in 1988. Kobie said a safe, effective, and durable vaccine has eluded researchers thus far, partly because of the tremendous ability of the HIV virus to mutate.

"Both in a whole population as well as on an individual level. So, generating an immune response that can recognize a broad range of HIV variants is really important."

Kobie and his colleagues are in the early stages of a four-year series of studies.

"I think we're a lot closer than we used to be,” he said. It's difficult to put a time line on it. I see tremendous progress that's happening very quickly over time."

The University of Rochester will be recruiting volunteers who are at high risk of developing HIV, as well as volunteers from the low risk population.  Kobie said those who volunteer for the clinical trials are playing a crucial role in the research.

Beth Adams/WXXI News

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