News Release: Yerkes

Oct. 29,  2008

Emory Scientist Receives Grant from Gates Foundation for HIV Research

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John Altman, PhD, a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Emory Vaccine Center, is one of only 104 researchers worldwide and the only one at Emory to receive a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This award is part of the first round of funding for the Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help lower the barriers for testing innovative ideas in global health.

Altman will focus on creating new ways to prevent or cure HIV infections by using FTY720, a drug proven effective in rodents against the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), a high-level, persistent, rodent-borne viral infection. The rodent immune system attempts to fight off LCMV but becomes exhausted and is not successful at clearing the infection. This is similar to the way some nonhuman primates respond to the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and how humans react to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), both high-level, persistent viral infections.

"With FTY720, we were able to resuscitate the immune response in mice, so the immune system could fight the LCMV infection," said Altman. "Because of similarities between the immune responses against LCMV, SIV and HIV," Altman continued, "we designed this study to determine whether FTY720 will be effective in making an exhausted immune system functional for rhesus macaques infected with SIV. If rhesus macaques also respond positively to FTY720, this could lead the way to studies in humans with HIV."

Stuart Zola, PhD, director of the Yerkes Research Center, said, "Dr. Altman's work is an exceptional example of translational research at Yerkes. Moving from mouse models to nonhuman primates to humans is the exact trajectory that is enabling Yerkes researchers to make life-changing discoveries that are improving the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates."

For nearly eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health--funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate, quality animal care.

Within the fields of microbiology and immunology, neuroscience, psychobiology and sensory-motor systems, the center's research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as AIDS and Alzheimer's disease; treat cocaine addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's; unlock the secrets of memory; determine behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy; address vision disorders; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

The mission of the Emory Vaccine Center is to improve human health by conducting fundamental and clinical research that leads to the development of effective vaccines against infectious diseases of global importance. The Emory Vaccine Center represents one of the largest academic vaccine centers in the world, and is renowned for its expertise in cellular immunity and immune memory. This expertise leads to the creation of new technologies for the prevention of emerging infectious diseases.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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