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$18 Million Grant Supports HIV/AIDS Research, Outreach to Rochester Community

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The University of Rochester Medical Center's Infectious Diseases Division has partnered with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study HIV/AIDS for more than 30 years. Their efforts have been recognized with a new $18 million grant to continue conducting vaccine and treatment trials and engaging with communities affected by HIV.

The award also allows Rochester researchers to study other high-priority infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The team (pictured above) pivoted to study coronavirus vaccines and treatments over the past six months, contributing to the worldwide effort to bring safe and effective vaccines and therapies to market as quickly as possible.

"While creating a preventive HIV vaccine has been complex, our work has established approaches that are used for HIV and also contributed to the unprecedented speed at which coronavirus vaccines are being developed," said Michael C. Keefer, M.D., professor in the department of Medicine and interim chief of the Infectious Diseases Division. For example, vaccines using adenoviruses as carriers of HIV proteins have been used in HIV research for years, and that is one of the approaches being used in two of the actively enrolling COVID-19 vaccine efficacy trials (AstraZeneca and Janssen trials). Additionally, anti-HIV monoclonal neutralizing antibodies have been shown to be effective in preventing some HIV infections, and anti-coronavirus monoclonal antibodies have become an important strategy to treat patients with early-stage COVID-19.

The division received its first grant and became a part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) HIV/AIDS Clinical Research Networks in 1987. Led by Keefer and Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., chair of the department of Microbiology and Immunology, as well as program director Catherine Bunce, the new grant will run for seven years and will be used to:

  • Coordinate and execute high-quality HIV/AIDS vaccine and treatment trials that enroll participants from diverse populations.
  • Engage with local communities to assess attitudes to clinical research and conduct educational outreach around research participation.
  • Mentor and train the next generation of HIV/AIDS researchers.
  • Advance HIV/AIDS research by providing scientific leadership and supporting NIAID's AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) and HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN).
  • Provide data and quality management, regulatory support, laboratory, pharmacy and other resources to effectively support HIV/AIDS clinical trials.
  • Rapidly respond to emerging infectious diseases that require national attention and coordination.
Read More: $18 Million Grant Supports HIV/AIDS Research, Outreach to Rochester Community

RNA Essay Contest Results and Congratulations

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The UR Center for RNA Biology offered an exercise during the time when COVID-19 became a sufficient threat to largely shut-down our research enterprise. We're pleased to announce the winners of the UR's Center for RNA Biology Essay Contest on "The role of RNA research in community health". These awards are sponsored by a grant from the RNA Society & Lexogen to the UR Center for RNA Biology, and funds from UR RNA Structure & Function Cluster.

Our Gold prize (~$1,000 value) award goes to Sydney Simpson, an Immunology, Microbiology & Virology graduate student in Steve Dewhurst's lab in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, for her essay: "Nucleoside Analog Inhibitors: Timeless & Timely Beacons of Hope".

The Silver Prize (~$250 value) award goes to Omar Hedaya, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology graduate student in Peng Yao's lab in the Department of Medicine/Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, for his essay: "Know the Fundamentals when Seeking the Future".

Omar Hedaya

Sydney Simpson

Both awardees have become members of the RNA Society and will use their winnings toward technology needs for the upcoming semester.

The RNA Society now features our contest results, including the winning essays, in its latest RNA Salon update:, see bullet #3.

We would like to acknowledge Honorable Mentions for the following applicants:

  • Sai Shashank Chavali -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Wedekind Lab
  • Lily Cisco -- Graduate student; Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology; Lueck Lab
  • Gabrielle Kosoy -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Miller Lab
  • Ashwin Kumar -- Graduate student; Biophysics, Structural & Computational Biology; Topham Lab
  • Li Xie -- Graduate student; Genetics, Development & Stem Cells; Pröschel Lab

We thank all who participated -- and our judges, too!