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October 18, 2002



American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) Awards Address Enigmas in HIV Treatment and Vaccine Development

The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) has awarded Emory microbiologist Sang-Moo Kang, Ph.D., a fellowship to study how dendritic cells might be used to improve the immune response against AIDS. Dr. Kang theorizes that by increasing the number of dendritic cells, which play an important role in priming immune responses and establishing immune memory, he can enhance the immune response to HIV. The findings also could prove useful in developing an effective AIDS vaccine.

Dendritic cells have a potent ability to capture foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses and present the captured substances to naïve cells, thus inducing primary immune responses and establishing immune memory. After capturing foreign invaders in the skin and mucosal tissues, the dendritic cells migrate to the spleen or lymph nodes, where they stimulate immune-inducing cells.

Dr. Kang plans to anchor a dendritic-cell growth factor in the laboratory to HIV virus-like particles (VLPs), which consist of the main components of the HIV virus but not its genetic material. He then will immunize mice with the dendritic cell/HIV-VLP combination to stimulate the growth of dendritic-cell populations in the spleen and lymph nodes and enhance immune responses to the HIV virus. If the strategy proves successful, he could potentially adapt it to the development of an HIV vaccine.

The $99,000 amFAR fellowship is one of several amFAR awards nationally totaling $760,000 for new research on HIV/AIDS. The research will tackle some of the difficult and unanswered questions still surrounding the virus.

"amFAR's new awards target areas of HIV/AIDS research that have challenged scientists," said Dr. Jay Levy, chairman of amfAR's basic research committee and scientific advisory committee and director, Laboratory for Tumor and AIDS Virus Research at the University of California, San Francisco. "The amfAR-supported researchers plan to study the unique properties of the AIDS virus in order to develop more effective vaccines and drug treatments and to better understand changes in the immune system that take place after HIV infection."

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