For more than three decades, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) has been working to end the global AIDS epidemic through innovative research. Uniquely positioned to respond quickly, freely, and flexibly to emerging areas of scientific promise, amfAR has played a vital role throughout its history in accelerating HIV/AIDS research and achieving significant breakthroughs. To date, amfAR has invested close to $500 million in its various programs, and has awarded research grants to more than 3,300 teams all around the world.
One of the most important grant programs that amfAR operates are the Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research. Launched in 2008 and named in honor of Dr. Mathilde Krim, the founding chairman of amfAR, the Krim Fellowship program provides critical support to the next generation of bright young scientists working on innovative solutions to HIV/AIDS. The program is a true testament to amfAR’s belief that investing in promising and dedicated young researchers is a vital step in securing and strengthening the future of HIV/AIDS research.
Each year, three Krim Fellows are selected to receive $150,000 in funding over a two-year period in order to facilitate the transition from postdoctoral research to an independent career in HIV/AIDS research at an academic institution or nonprofit organization. Applicants must have completed a research or clinical doctorate between three and six years prior to their application; have demonstrated a strong commitment to preventing, treating, and curing HIV/AIDS; and be mentored during their fellowship period by an experienced investigator at their institution, among other eligibility criteria. The 2017 Krim Fellows were announced on October 23, 2017; read on to learn more about these innovative researchers and their work.
Dr. Daniela Monaco: Using vaccine research to find a cure for HIV
A postdoctoral scientist in the field of HIV evolution, Dr. Daniela Monaco plans to combine her expertise in this area with insights from vaccine development in order to find a cure for HIV. Her approach is unique in that it brings together two fields usually considered to be at opposite ends of the spectrum of HIV/AIDS research.
As soon as an individual contracts an HIV infection, the immune system puts pressure on the virus. In order to evade or escape that pressure, the virus mutates, thus launching an ongoing spiral of virus mutations and immune system responses. In turn, the transmission of the virus to a new host launches a new spiral, in which the immune system’s ability to control the virus depends in part on how closely the immune responses are matched from one host to another. To explore this process, Dr. Monaco intends to use blood samples gathered from HIV transmission pairs in Zambia to analyze how the viral mutations have accumulated before and after transmission. Her aim is to identify those parts of the virus that are resistant to mutations, and to exploit these vulnerabilities in order to target viral reservoir cells.
Dr. Monaco will complete her Krim Fellowship at Emory University under the mentorship of Dr. Eric Hunter, in whose lab she currently works.
Dr. Gabriel Ozorowski: Leveraging Nobel Prize-winning technology to create new HIV treatments
An expert in electron microscopy (EM) of viral proteins, Dr. Gabriel Ozorowski intends to deploy Nobel Prize-winning technology in his pursuit of new antiretroviral drugs called fusion inhibitors.
To date, only one fusion inhibitor has been approved for use as an HIV treatment by the FDA, but Dr. Ozorowski aims to change this by combining cutting-edge computational biology with a technique called cryo-EM, a process that freezes molecules at -180 degrees Celsius in order to reveal their detailed structures. (Cryo-EM earned its inventors the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2017.) By using cryo-EM, Dr. Ozorowski is making new discoveries about the structures of Env, the viral protein targeted by fusion inhibitors. When greater insights about these structures are brought together with algorithms that can screen through thousands of small drug molecule libraries, he hopes to identify those that are most likely to perturb these newly-discovered Env structures, and thus act as new fusion inhibitors.
Dr. Ozorowski currently works at the Scripps Research Institute in the lab of Dr. Andrew Ward, who will serve as his mentor during the Krim Fellowship period.
Dr. Jonathan Richard: Harnessing the power of natural killer cells
Given that he is the recipient of the prestigious Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship Award and the author of 21 publications in just four years of postdoctoral work, it’s certainly safe to say that Dr. Jonathan Richard is one of the most promising HIV/AIDS researchers of his generation.
The project that Dr. Richard intends to pursue with his Krim Fellowship is equally ambitious. In his previous work, Dr. Richard studied so-called “natural killer” (NK) cells, which form part of the body’s initial defense again infection. Having identified two host proteins that enhance the mechanisms that these NK cells use to destroy cells that have been infected by a virus, Dr. Richard intends to explore whether bolstering these host proteins will allow them to be used to kill viral reservoir cells.
Dr. Richard will complete his Krim Fellowship at the Université de Montréal, Centre de Recherche du CHUM, under the mentorship of Dr. Andrés Finzi, who is a former Krim Fellow himself.