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Media Contact: Lisa Newbern 29 October 2008    
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Emory University Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research by John Altman, PhD
Emory University announced today that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by John Altman, PhD, titled “Controlling HIV/SIV with Drugs That Manipulate Lymphocyte Trafficking.”

Altman's project is one of 104 grants announced by the Gates Foundation for the first funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold, new solutions for health challenges in developing countries. The grants were provided to all levels of scientists in 22 countries and five continents.

To receive funding, Altman showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and could lead to significant advances in global health if successful.

Altman is a scientist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Emory Vaccine Center of Emory University. He 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.”

“I congratulate each individual who took the initiative to share their idea with us to help fight the world’s most serious diseases,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program. “The number of creative approaches we received exceeded our highest aspirations. Projects from this initial pool of grants have the potential to transform health in developing countries, and I will be rooting for their success.”

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health. The program uses an agile, streamlined grant process – applications are limited to two pages, and preliminary data are not required. Proposals are reviewed and selected by a committee of foundation staff and external experts, and grant decisions are made within approximately three months of the close of the funding round.

Applications for the second round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through November 2, 2008, and topics for the third round will be announced in early 2009. Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at


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. ###

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