NYU researchers turn to UMMS expertise in DNA-based vaccines to test candidate 

July 25, 2006 

WORCESTER, Mass. -The University of Massachusetts Medical School is part of a team of HIV researchers, led by faculty at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, recently awarded a major grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to "jump start" research efforts toward finding a vaccine to prevent HIV. In announcing the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery, a consortium of 16 researchers and institutions worldwide, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has earmarked more than $287 million in grants for researchers whose work in the field has resulted in promising preliminary vaccine candidates.  Susan B. Zolla-Pazner, PhD, a professor of pathology at NYU, has been awarded a three-year, $8.4 million grant by the Foundation and will work with, among other researchers worldwide, Shan Lu, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology at UMMS. 

Dr. Lu, a pioneer in the use of DNA-based vaccine technology, collaborated with Dr. Zolla-Pazner on earlier research that helped lay the groundwork for her Gates Foundation grant. Dr. Zolla-Pazner is internationally recognized for AIDS research specializing in immunology and to complement her expertise assembled a team of researchers in the areas of immunology, virology, crystallography, and structural and computational biology for her proposal to the Gates Foundation.  

"I am very happy to be a member of this group of high caliber AIDS researchers, which will work like a relay team," said Dr. Lu.  "Dr. Zolla-Pazner and her colleagues at NYU will first propose a vaccine candidate that will then be analyzed by structure biologists in another group.  I will take the verified candidate vaccines and test them by DNA immunization, which is much faster and more reliable than the traditional immunization approaches.  Finally, the immune sera will be sent to another group to be analyzed for their ability to block HIV infection."  

Dr. Lu, a physician-scientist whose work has focused on novel vaccine development including HIV and flu vaccines, will employ his DNA-based vaccine technology in testing Dr. Zolla-Pazner's concept of  "V3 loop" of the HIV envelope protein as the key target to generate broadly cross-reactive antibodies.   

DNA-based vaccines are unique in that they employ snippets of DNA constructed in the lab that match genetic elements of a virus but will not cause viral infection.  After the DNA vaccine is administered, it begins to produce the protective proteins inside the body, which the host recognizes as part of the virus, thereby initiating an immune response. The advantage of a DNA-based approach is that the vaccines can be manufactured very rapidly and in large quantities, while producing an extremely good immune response at low doses. 

Dr. Lu, who previously collaborated with Dr. Zolla-Pazner on a joint National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant investigating the potential for vaccine targets within the HIV envelope or protein coating, is widely respected as a leading AIDS vaccine researcher who has attracted major research funding for his work into HIV vaccines, including an HIV Vaccine Design and Development Team contract from the NIH. 

UMass Medical School was designated in 1998 as one of the nation's Centers for AIDS Research (CFAR) and as such is an important resource for the advancement of AIDS-related research, facilitating interdisciplinary and international collaborations, technology transfer through academic-industry collaborations, research dissemination activity, and community outreach. 

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $174 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information visit . 

For more information about New York University School of Medicine and Dr. Zolla-Pazner's work, contact: Pamela McDonnell, Office of Public Affairs, NYU Medical Center, 212-404-3555 or e-mail: . 

UMMS Contact: Alison Duffy
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