HSC Receives $1M Gates Foundation Research Grant



August 11, 2011

Human Autophagy System Shows Promise

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A UNM research team led by Vojo Deretic, Ph.D., has been granted nearly $1 million to apply its autophagy investigations to HIV.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Exploration Funding enables researchers worldwide to test unique ideas that address persistent health and development challenges, such as HIV. The molecular process known as autophagy uses the human body’s built-in immune system to prevent infectious diseases.

Within each of our highly adaptive and complex bodies, there are processes at the molecular level that maintain the cellular landscape, Deretic asserts. These processes ensure that exhausted proteins and invading micro-organisms are properly gathered and disposed of, making room for new cells. This human autophagy, or “self-eating” system, helps to regulate which cells live and die. Autophagy also acts as a defense against harmful viruses and bacteria.

“We were funded two years ago by the Gates Foundation to develop the feasibility of applying autophagy to HIV,” explains Deretic, professor and chair of UNM’s Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department (MGM). “Now we have the opportunity to screen for drugs that can intercept the virus at several stages.”

Heading MGM, a key basic science department at UNM’s School of Medicine, Deretic is a member of UNM’s renowned Infectious Disease Signature Research Program associated with UNM’s NIH-based Clinical & Translational Science Center. Deretic and company hope to combat inflammation associated with HIV, as well as the virus itself.

Deretic’s team for this project included Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department members Manohar Pilli, John Arko-Mensah, Michal Mudd, Michael Mandell, Mark Carter and Steven Bradfute. Other team members include Dr. Larry Sklar with UNM’s Center for Molecular Discovery, Biochemist Stephen Matheas and Vincent Piguet from the United Kingdom.

For more information, visit the MGM web site athttp://hsc.unm.edu/som/micro/. Grand Challenges Explorations funds researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Projects receiving additional funding show promise in tackling priority global health issues where solutions do not yet exist. This includes finding effective methods to eliminate or control infectious diseases like Malaria and HIV.

For more information, visitwww.grandchallenges.org. For more information on related activities at UNM HSC visitwww.hsc.unm.edu.

Contact: Luke Frank, 272-3322

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