Once a stigmatized disease, AIDS is now a primary focus for many researchers seeking to address deadly health problems and potentially save the lives of millions of men, women and children. AIDS killed 1.5 million people worldwide last year, a staggering number that has drawn the attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Addressing this disease is a priority for the Gates Foundation, as is evidenced by all the work they have done to select and fund promising research. Fortunately, scientists all over the world are searching for innovative solutions to curing this disease. The Gates Foundation has found one likely contender for a vaccine that may also work as a cure in the work of a science researcher at Oregon Health and Science University.
"To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly-publicized but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with anti-viral medicines very early after the onset of infection, or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer," said Dr. Louis Picker, a science researcher at Oregon Health and Science University in an article by The Oregonian. "This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body."
The Gates Foundation has given Dr. Picker $25 million in AIDS vaccine research funding to work on his innovative solution to curing people of AIDS. Dr. Picker's research drew worldwide attention when a vaccine he developed eradicated Simian Immunodeficiency Virus – a close relative to HIV – in half of primates infected.
Dr. Louis Picker
Image courtesy of OHSU
Dr. Picker works as a science researcher at Oregon Health and Science University and a professor of pathology/molecular microbiology and immunology. He and his colleagues focus their AIDS vaccine research on memory T cell biology in humans and non-human primates. Having built an expertise on the quantification and functional characterization of antigen-specific memory T cells, Dr. Picker can make use of this knowledge when examining humans and other primates for chronic viral infection.
The funding from the Gates Foundation "is huge for us because it allows us sufficient money to do the necessary things we need to do to get this into humans," Picker said. "My hardest job is really to go out and get the money to do the work. Strange as it may seem, that's sometimes harder than doing the science itself."
The technique Dr. Picker has used in his AIDS vaccine research involves modifying a common, usually harmless virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) in order to retrain the immune system to target another virus, like Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. The body's T cells consequently patrol the body and wage war on the more harmful virus.
"We fully expect ... this (technique) should do the same thing in humans," Picker said. "I think we have a very good shot at it."
The Gates Foundation has already provided $8 million towards Picker's research in the past. The Gates Foundation states that its mission is addressing the world's inequities through funding innovative solutions. Funding from the Gates Foundation is very results-based, so partners chosen to work with the foundation have to have thought-out plans for their solutions to some of the most pressing world issues. Some health issues the Gates Foundation funds discoveries for include translational sciences, enteric and diarrheal diseases, HIV, malaria, neglected infectious diseases, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Given this latest $25 million grant for AIDS vaccine research, science researchers at Oregon Health and Science University working with Dr. Picker will have the funding available to keep their labs well stocked with quality lab supplies. You can meet hundreds of qualified researchers and life science professionals at OHSU at Biotechnology Calendar, Inc's upcoming Portland BioResearch Product Faire™Event on September 11th, 2014.
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