Georgetown is among 18 institutions awarded a $28 million grant from the National Institute of Health for the BELIEVE project, an effort led by researchers from The George Washington University to discover a cure for HIV/AIDS.
With funding from the NIH’s Martin Delaney Collaboratory grant, researchers will develop a cell therapy approach designed to improve the immune system’s ability to eliminate HIV reservoirs in individuals with HIV.
The BELIEVE project, or Bench to Bed Enhanced Lymphocyte Infusions to Engineer Viral Eradication, is a joint program involving 18 medical centers spanning across the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
American institutions collaborating on the project include Johns Hopkins University, the Children’s National Health System, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Internationally, the project involves researchers at the University of Toronto, Centro de Investigación en Enfermedades Infecciosas in Mexico and the University of Sao Paulo.
Georgetown University Medical Center Senior Associate Dean for Students Princy Kumar will lead Georgetown’s arm of the project. Kumar was unavailable to comment at press time.
In April 2015, NIH awarded Georgetown University, along with George Washington University, Howard University, American University, the Children’s National Medical Center and the Washington DC VA Medical Center, a $7.5 million grant to set up the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research.
The lead investigators from DC CFAR, including Kumar, are spearheading BELIEVE.
Brad Jones, an assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said the project’s goal is to eliminate viral reservoirs.
“Curing HIV infection will likely require eliminating all virus in all of the sites that it persists, a daunting task,” Jones wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our goal is that at the end of this five-year period we will have a clear indication that we have achieved reductions of viral reservoirs in clinical trial participants and knowledge on how to improve upon this initial success to cure individuals in future iterations of this trial.”
Jones emphasized the need for local action, as Washington, D.C., plays an important role in the HIV epidemic with an infection rate of 3.2 percent.
“It is critical that the local academic institutions partner with each other, with community stakeholders, and with industry partners and work together to help curb the epidemic locally, nationally, and around the world,” Jones wrote.
The program will establish community advisory boards, annual meetings between institutions, educational outreach and other frameworks to ensure successful cooperation on the transnational project. The District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research will further provide access to laboratories, study design services and access to clinical populations.
Alan Greenberg, director of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research, stressed his team’s dedication to full collaboration with other key institutions in both BELIEVE and DC CFAR.
“[We] will work in close collaboration to ensure that there is maximum synergy between these two NIH funded projects,” Greenberg wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Manya Magnus, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health who also serves as associate chair of the department, underscored the need for local outreach in both the medical and general community.
“It is critical that local and global communities are thoroughly engaged in all facets of HIV cure research. In addition to developing structures for ongoing and meaningful community input into both basic science and our novel clinical trials, we will together with members of the community develop and implement innovative educational outreach strategies about HIV cure research,” Magnus wrote in an email to The Hoya.
As a member of BELIEVE’s executive committee, Jones expressed his optimism toward the project and the BELIEVE team’s vested responsibility to work toward a cure for HIV.
“We are all excited and grateful for this opportunity to work together. My personal feelings are dominated by a sense of responsibility. We’ve been handed an opportunity to move the world closer to a cure for HIV/AIDS and we are committed to delivering on this,” Jones wrote.