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May 6, 2002


Emory Vaccine Center Sending Riders to Europe to Cycle for AIDS-Free Future

Emory University scientists, students and staff will cycle almost 500 miles carrying their vision of an AIDS-free future during the European AIDS Vaccine Ride. For seven days, the Emory team will trek from Amsterdam to Paris to raise money for HIV vaccine research.

Two university research centers — the Emory Vaccine Research Center, directed by Dr. Rafi Ahmed and the UCLA AIDS Institute, directed by Dr. Irvin Chen — will equally benefit from proceeds raised from the European ride, as well as organizations in Europe conducting AIDS vaccine research.

The June 30 – July 6 event is organized by Pallotta TeamWorks of Los Angeles, organizers of the AIDSRides USA, which have provided AIDS charities around the world with more than $97 million in eight years.

"By the end of last year, more than 40 million adults and children were living with HIV infection and more than 15,000 were being newly infected each day," Dr. Ahmed says. "Without effective therapy, it is expected that more than 98% of these individuals will ultimately die of AIDS. In developing countries, where the epidemic is most severe, even effective drugs are much too expensive and complicated to administer. This is why the development of a safe, effective, and affordable HIV vaccine is key to slowing and ultimately ending the AIDS pandemic."

Using a portion of the funds from the $1.1 million contribution from the AIDS Vaccine Ride in 2000, the Emory Vaccine Center opened the Hope Clinic this year. The Hope Clinic facility, led by Dr. Mark Feinberg, is specifically devoted to conducting clinical trials of promising new vaccines and therapeutic interventions. The Hope Clinic provides Emory investigators with exceptional facilities to translate basic research findings into useful clinical advances. The clinic will be the site of Emory's clinical AIDS vaccine trials, and already the vaccine team is conducting three clinical trials of promising AIDS vaccines in conjunction with Merck, Inc.

"Because HIV is fundamentally different from any infectious disease that can currently be prevented by vaccination, it poses unique scientific challenges," Dr. Ahmed notes. "These challenges require creativity and innovation. Traditional funding agencies are sometimes reluctant to support the bold and innovative strategies necessary for the development of an AIDS vaccine. The funds that the Emory Vaccine Center has received from the AIDS Vaccine Ride have contributed critically to our vaccine efforts. Our investigators are beginning exciting new vaccine studies that have already achieved impressive results in the laboratory and in animals."

Over the course of the European journey, participants will be accompanied by medical personnel, transport vehicles and other technical support should the need arise. At the end of each night, participants sleep in a mobile "tent city," complete with catered meals, hot showers, entertainment and remembrance tents for personal times of reflection.

Veteran AIDS Vaccine rider Joe Miller is participating in the event for his third year. He also rode in the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride in 2000 and 2001. As an Emory graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences, Miller studies how the immune system responds to viral infections and is also currently studying how human T-cells respond to viral infections, including HIV.

"On September 11, 7,000 people died of AIDS and in the next 20 years, 75 million will have died of AIDS without a vaccine," Miller said. "The AIDS epidemic cripples individuals, destroys families, increases poverty, orphans children, ruins economies, and destabilizes political frameworks."

Emory Vaccine Center riders are raising the required $5,000 fundraising minimum per participant through individual contributions and pledges.

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