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Media Contact: Holly Korschun 01 July 2005    
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Emory Issued 'Global Challenge' to Fight Hepatitis C and HIV
The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, a major effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries, has selected to fund research projects at the Emory Vaccine Center, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and the Rollins School of Public Health. A total of 43 grants totaling $436.6 million were offered for a broad range of innovative research projects in 33 countries. The ultimate goal of the Grand Challenges initiative is to create deliverable technologies -- health tools that not only are effective, but also are inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute and simple to use in developing countries.

Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the Emory Vaccine Center and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, will lead a project focused on discovering new immunological strategies for curing hepatitis C virus infections. The $12.5 million grant will include collaborators at Dana Farber Cancer Center/Harvard University, Columbus Children's Research Institute, Rockefeller University and the National Institutes of Health.

In addition, researchers at Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Rollins School of Public Health will collaborate with a research team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) studying the strengths and weaknesses of natural immune response to HIV infection in order to guide the development of an HIV vaccine.

Dr. Ahmed and his collaborators hope to develop a new therapy for hepatitis C that is more effective and affordable than the current treatment for the liver disease. Scientists recently discovered that viruses causing chronic infections similar to hepatitis C are able to turn off the body's natural immune defenses against the disease and then spread throughout the body virtually unchecked. The project will focus on developing a therapy that switches back on the immune system's natural defenses against hepatitis C. If successful, this approach could be applied to the treatment of several other chronic viral infections and possibly to certain parasitic diseases or to cancer.

Just as critical to creating deliverable technologies is the $16.3 million HIV vaccine project led by George M. Shaw, MD, PhD, at UAB. Eric Hunter, PhD, Yerkes and Emory Vaccine Center scientist in residence as well as Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, will lead the Emory portion of the grant -- approximately $1.5 million -- with collaborators Susan Allen, MD, MPH, professor of global health at RSPH, and Cynthia Derdeyn, PhD, also a Yerkes and Emory Vaccine Center scientist in residence.

"Emory is uniquely positioned to make major contributions to this research program, and we are excited to continue working with our collaborators at UAB," said Dr. Hunter. "Emory's participation in two projects within the Grand Challenges initiative, involving three components of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center -- medicine, public health and Yerkes -- demonstrates the breadth and strength of our research programs," said Michael M.E. Johns, MD, Emory executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. "We are extremely proud of our important role in this effort to make significant discoveries that will curb challenging global diseases."

The Grand Challenges initiative is supported by a $450 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Global health experts at the FNIH, the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and CIHR manage the initiative.

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