Burnet researcher awarded NIH grant

Burnet Institute

27 May, 2013

Professor Sharon Lewin, Associate Professor Melissa Churchill and Professor Paul Gorry.

HIV research scientist, Associate Professor Melissa Churchill has been awarded a coveted National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for her ground breaking work on HIV in the brain.

Associate Professor Churchill and her Burnet colleagues, Professor Paul Gorry and Professor Sharon Lewin have been awarded USD$150,000 per year for two years for their project Transcriptional HIV-1 latency in astrocyte and macrophage reservoirs of the central nervous system.

The project will complement other work led by Professor Lewin which investigates HDAC inhibitors, a type of drug used to activate dormant HIV in T-cells so the immune system or antiretroviral drugs can eliminate the exposed virus.

Associate Professor Churchill said using HDACs could potentially be a problem in the central nervous system, because little is known about the penetration and impact of them once they get into the brain.

“After activating the virus with HDAC inhibitors, the next step is to hit the activated virus with antiretroviral therapy, but we have recently shown that some antiretrovirals have limited effect in the brain, so the question is do the drugs work? In addition, the immune system doesn’t play a large role in the brain like in the rest of the body,” Associate Professor Churchill said.

“With this grant, we will try to find out why HIV remains dormant in the brain and not replicate, and once we have done that we will characterise the effect that HDACs have on brain viruses.”

Associate Professor Churchill said it’s rare for the US-based NIH to award grants on the first application and without a US-based investigator.

“This type of grant, the R21 is a great building block for applying for a larger grant from NIH in the future.”


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