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MCG receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant for innovative global health research

AUGUSTA, Ga. The Medical College of Georgia announced today that it has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Dr. Pandelakis A. Koni titled "Antibody-Dependent Cellular Cytotoxicity Targeted Against HIV-1 Env Glycans."

Dr. Koni's project is one of 104 grants recently 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, Dr. Koni 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.

His goal is to develop a vaccine against HIV, a virus that is notoriously slippery, constantly mutating itself to avoid being targeted by the immune system. In fact, the dynamic of this virus is one reason vaccines to date have failed, Dr. Koni said. But he thinks there may be chinks in the armor. Like many cells in the body, HIV and HIV-infected cells are sugar-coated. In fact, one role of this complex carbohydrate shield is believed to be protecting HIV from attack. However there are some consistencies in the sugar coating which Dr. Koni believes are critical to the virus and may be good vaccine targets.

As a first step, the immunologist is working to develop antibodies to these segments of the sugar coating with the idea that they are sites of potential vulnerability for the durable virus. "My idea is that these areas are always conserved and are consistent for a reason," said Dr. Koni. While his goal is to develop a protective vaccine, Dr. Koni said if he's successful in his pursuit, the antibodies may provide new targeted treatment strategies as well.

"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."


Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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MCG receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant for innovative global health research
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