amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Gates Grant for amfAR Researcher

Multimillion dollar award accelerates search for an AIDS vaccine

August 10, 2006The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is hoping that its recent $287 million investment in AIDS vaccine research, known as the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery, will help kickstart new vaccine strategies and test emerging vaccine candidates. Among the 16 principal investigators to receive this important funding, former amfAR grantee Dr. Leonidas (Leo) Stamatatos was awarded a grant of $19.4 million to pursue his search for antibodies that can effectively neutralize HIV as part of a vaccine strategy.

A vaccine is generally considered the gold standard in infectious disease prevention. But designing an AIDS vaccine has proven particularly challenging. Experts generally believe that the ability to generate antibodies will form the cornerstone of an AIDS vaccine that could prevent the establishment of HIV infection. And yet finding antibodies that can neutralize a broad range of HIV strains has so far proven elusive, and design techniques that have been successful in the construction of other vaccines are simply not effective against HIV.

In 1995, amfAR awarded Dr. Stamatatos a three-year research scholarship to probe the HIV gp120, a protein that sits on the outer coat of the virus and is central to the production of antibodies against it. In 1998, amfAR once again funded Dr. Stamatatos, this time to investigate the range of ways in which antibodies react to gp120.

Dr. Stamatatos's grant from the Gates Foundation follows on directly from work he began with amfAR support. His consortium will generate synthetic molecules designed by computer and test the ability of these molecules to generate antibodies against HIV. Because of the massive computer power required to design these molecules, the consortium will be using processing capability from donated personal computer idle time.

We wish Dr. Stamatatos and all of his colleagues well in their search for an AIDS vaccine.