UCSF to attack HIV at molecular level with new center and $7 million in state funds

September 20, 1999

Funded by a six-year, $7 million grant from the State of California, the new project is named the UCSF California AIDS Research Center.

The Center is designed to coordinate basic and clinical science investigation through a unified, single program directed at gaining new understanding at the molecular level of the biological factors that facilitate and inhibit HIV transmission, how to prevent HIV infection, and how to delay progression of disease once a person is infected.

This is the first time UCSF has had a single center focusing on this key area of research.

"This crucial funding from the state will fill a critical gap in UCSF's research portfolio and lead to improved vaccine concepts and better therapies for persons already infected with HIV. This grant brings together laboratory, clinical, and public health scientists in a new way," said John Greenspan, BDS, Ph.D., Center director and chair of the UCSF Department of Stomatology.

He also emphasized that the new organization will combine the next generation of HIV research with the strength of extensive, ongoing work by UCSF AIDS specialists.

"AIDS and HIV are not going away, so in addition to supporting four target areas, the Center will serve as a breeding ground for new ideas that build on the expertise and long experience of our team in AIDS work. One of our goals is to respond in dynamic fashion to the needs of HIV research by stimulating the development of pilot projects that will test new theories," Greenspan said.

"Another goal is to end the HIV epidemic in California, and key support comes from the University of California system," he added. The new Center will receive state monies through the UC University-wide AIDS Research Program, an entity formed in the mid-1980s to administer state funds for quality AIDS research.

Deputy directors of the new UCSF Center are Paul Volberding, MD, an expert in HIV/AIDS clinical treatment, and Margaret Chesney, PhD, a leader in behavioral prevention efforts, both of whom are recognized internationally.

Research projects led by UCSF AIDS specialists will target four major areas: transmission of drug-resistant HIV, molecular and cellular interactions in HIV infection, molecular mechanisms of HIV therapies, and resistance against HIV infection through a vaccine.

One of the projects will focus on animal testing of a new vaccine concept, while the others will investigate how to begin to develop vaccines against HIV to work both in those who are infected and in those who are uninfected.

UCSF was one of the first institutions in the world to document the fact that drug-resistant HIV could be transmitted. Researchers now are planning to take the next step. "We need to find out at this early stage whether or not there is a lot of resistant HIV being spread in the community," said Robert Grant, MD, MPH, director of the Gladstone/UCSF Virology Core Laboratory, who will oversee this research.

One of the most important areas of HIV/AIDS research is vaccine development, emphasized Thomas J. Coates, PhD, executive director of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute (UCSF ARI).

"Some might wonder why we need more basic and applied research on vaccines when there are trials already of vaccines in the field. What we need right now are more and better vaccine concepts, and we need to be testing as many of them simultaneously as possible. We still haven't found the 'magic bullet,' and we' re probably not going to find it soon. The vaccines being tested now may or may not prove to be useful against HIV. We need to keep the pipeline running with new ideas and products if we're going to find a way to stop HIV and AIDS," he said.

The UCSF ARI is a campuswide enterprise without walls that encompasses all UCSF AIDS programs under a single umbrella and includes close to 1,000 investigators.

A leading institution in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic in the early1980s, UCSF is known throughout the world as the model for studying the disease in all areas-basic science, treatment approaches, prevention strategies, and policy issues.

Greenspan and Volberding are two UCSF faculty who have been with the UCSF AIDS program from its earliest days when the first patients were diagnosed, and they both emphasized that they "plan to be here not only to help the epidemic end, but also to see it end."

University of California - San Francisco

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