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Landenberger Foundation awards grant to Scripps Florida scientist to study HIV

A scientist on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute has received funding from the Philadelphia-based Margaret Q. Landenberger Research Foundation.

Susana T. Valente, an assistant professor in the Department of Infectology, received a two-year $240,000 grant to expand her study of the many genes and protein products that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, uses to live inside human cells. These unique molecular interactions between retrovirus and host cell are potential therapeutic targets that might be exploited to disarm the virus without endangering the viability of the cell.

"I'm honored to receive this award from the Landenberger Foundation," Valente said. "This award will help me continue to focus on understanding how viruses like HIV use the machinery of host cells to replicate, as well as to explore some novel ways to prevent that from happening. The foundation has been very supportive of the work of Scripps Florida scientists, and I'm pleased that they selected our laboratory for this latest award."

In addition to identifying the molecular interactions between virus and host, Valente's research has focused on mammalian genes that have evolved within cells to block replication.

In a recently published study in the journal Molecular Cell, Valente and colleagues screened various biological libraries for genes or gene fragments to identify those host factors critical to HIV that might interfere with the virus's replication. The scientists found a specific host factor with the power to block HIV replication by reducing the processing of messenger RNA; mRNA, which is synthesized from DNA during transcription, carries the DNA code into the cytoplasm of the cell where it becomes a template for protein synthesis. Without mRNA, the virus cannot successfully reproduce.

Valente is the fifth Scripps Florida scientist to receive an award from the foundation in the last four years, an exceptional showing in a highly competitive environment. In the future, all awards will likely be restricted to a single grant per year per institution, according to a Landenberger spokesman.

In 2007, Nagi Ayad, an assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, and Paul Kenney, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics, received a three-year grant of $350,000 and a single year grant of $65,000 respectively. In 2008, Michael Conkright, also an assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, received a $150,000 grant. Earlier this year, Donny Strosberg, a professor in the Department of Infectology, was awarded $300,000 over three years.

The Landenberger Foundation also approved a 2010 award of $25,000 to Scripps Florida for a special conference to help other small foundations that specialize in supporting biomedical research to develop greater expertise in their review and analysis of scientific grant requests.


Contact: Mika Ono
Scripps Research Institute

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