Researcher to lead $10M HIV project

The study will focus on defending an antiviral protein against HIV.

Kyle Potter

Led by a University of Minnesota scientist, a team of researchers from around the globe has received $10 million to study a possible treatment for HIV.
Professor Reuben Harris of the UniversityâÄôs College of Biological Sciences received the National Institutes of Health grant last month to direct a five-year study of an essential antiviral protein that may be a key to treating HIV.
The protein is a type of APOBEC, which occur naturally throughout the body and combat viruses. TheyâÄôre part of âÄúour normal, innate immune response,âÄù Harris said.
But HIV and other similar viruses âÄî called retroviruses âÄî contain another protein that attacks and weakens APOBEC3Gs, a subgroup of APOBECs. This allows the virus to thrive.
Harris and his team will research APOBECs and their relationship with the proteins. They hope to find a way of defending the antiviral proteins from HIV and other retroviruses like Hepatitis B.
âÄúWe can exploit that information in rationally designing drugs to leverage this powerful cellular response,âÄù Harris said.
And because a potential therapy would target APOBEC3Gs rather than the virus itself, the chance of HIV developing resistance to a drug is lower, Harris said.
Harris will direct work across five institutions, including his own lab, the UniversityâÄôs College of Science and Engineering, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Nebraska and Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
Each arm of the research will focus on a different project. Harris and his team at CBS will focus on the virus itself, whereas researchers at the University of Massachusetts will use a technique called X-ray crystallography to develop a high-resolution image of APOBEC3G, Harris said.
Roughly half of the $10 million will come to the University of Minnesota, according to a press release on the grant.
âÄúThe No. 1 point is that this is fundamental research,âÄù Harris said. âÄúIt will provide us with all sorts of new molecular insights.âÄù
An associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics, Harris has been involved with HIV research for a decade.
The virus that causes AIDS, HIV has ravaged developing countries since it surfaced in 1981.
According to the World Health Organization, about 33 million people were living with HIV in 2009 âÄî more than 95 percent of them live in developing countries, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
In the U.S., more than 1 million people are living with HIV or AIDS.
Worldwide, roughly 1.8 million people died from AIDS in 2009, according to the WHO.