Health school gets $43 million for HIV study

Megan Boldt

The University’s School of Public Health has received a $43 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to head up an international HIV-research project, officials announced Thursday.
James D. Neaton, a biostatistician in the public health school, is the principal investigator on the grant. The HIV study will be conducted at 210 research sites in 18 different countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
Neaton is away from the University until Monday and could not be reached for comment.
NIH officials said they notified state representatives in Washington, D.C., about the study agreement Thursday. University officials, however, had not heard about the grant.
“We have not received an official confirmation about this grant,” said Winifred Schumi, assistant vice president of the University’s Sponsored Projects Administration.
Although she is still waiting for official word, Schumi said the grant validates the University’s reputation in the field of HIV research.
“This decision demonstrates the fact that our faculty members are exceptional researchers,” Schumi said. “The main thing here is that it is a relationship with researchers, not administration.
“This will definitely be a major project to coordinate,” she added.
Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center, said this is a great opportunity for the University.
“This is fantastic,” Cerra said. “The NIH’s decision shows what a high-quality, top-notch staff the University has.”
Cerra noted that the grants are very competitive and University researchers have been quite successful in attaining them.
University researchers embarking on the five-year trial will assess whether HIV patients respond to the drug, interleukin-2. Scientists will monitor whether the chemical extends the patient’s life and delays the progression of AIDS.
The drug is a naturally occurring protein, produced by the immune system, that stimulates the production of cells vital to the protection of the immune system.
Patients with HIV have a low number of these vital cells, leaving them prone to other diseases and infections. According to figures from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, more than 30 million people are infected with HIV worldwide.
It is estimated that about 16,000 individuals become infected every day, according to the institute’s statistics.
Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., notified his constituents about the University’s HIV grant Thursday, offering congratulatory words.
“This is a very important grant with a lot of work being done internationally,” Sabo said. “The University is an accredited institution that obviously submitted a good application.”

Megan Boldt covers city government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3224.