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Multimillion-dollar grant propels lab toward HIV cure
Date:5/9/2014

Fairfax, Va. -- A George Mason University researcher has won a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that may lead to a way for curing HIV in the next five years.

It's an especially sweet moment for Yuntao Wu, a molecular and microbiology professor, because his lab lost funding last year due to federal budget cuts. "We struggled for an entire year and finally the good news came," says Wu, who works in the School of Systems Biology and the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, both in the College of Science (COS).

But really, the good news is for people struggling with HIV, which leads to AIDS, because Wu has found a promising strategy to defeat the virus. He's borrowing an approach from the Greek poet Virgil and using a Trojan Horse to breach the fortress of HIV.

"It has the potential to offer a cure," Wu says. "We'll know in four to five years."

Wu and his lab team take an HIV-like virus, scoop out its insides and insert an HIV-destroying therapeutic. "But on the outside, it looks like an HIV virus," Wu says. "This Trojan virus then infects the HIV-harboring cell and kills itstopping it from making and spreading more viruses."

Wu's approach is almost as tricky as HIV's ability to hijack T-cells, which are the body's defense against disease. The HIV virus hides in T-cells, avoiding recognition and elimination by our immune system. Wu's strategy is to use the Trojan virus to find and infect the HIV-hiding T-cells, and then force the HIV virus to replicate. The replication of HIV will trigger the release of a therapeutic protein that will eventually lead to the death of HIV and the infected T-cells.

Wu began working on this strategy a decade ago and found success in the test tube. He's gratified that the approach may be the best way to eliminate the HIV-harboring reservoirs that are one of the most formidable obstacles for a cure to HIV infection. "This is what we've imag
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Contact: Michele McDonald
mmcdon15@gmu.edu
703-993-8781
George Mason University
Source:Eurekalert

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