Rejuvenating the Field of AIDS Research

New Krim fellowships will advance important research studies while helping ensure the long-term vitality of HIV research

amfAR has awarded Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research, named after the nonprofit’s founding chairman, to three researchers: Gabriel Duette, Ph.D.; Kalen Petersen, Ph.D.; and Simone Richardson, Ph.D.

Dr. Gabriel Duette. Photo courtesy The Westmead Institute for Medical Research
Dr. Gabriel Duette. Photo courtesy The Westmead Institute for Medical Research

“Since its creation in 2008, the Krim fellowship program has supported 62 young scientists with $9.7 million in funding; through this latest class, amfAR continues its 40-year dedication to supporting young scientists and investing in bold ideas,” amfAR senior scientific consultant Dr. Jeffrey Laurence said. “Each of these projects has the potential to fill critical knowledge gaps and bring us closer to a cure for the 39 million people who are living with HIV.”

Based at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Westmead, Australia, Dr. Duette is studying individuals who have undergone planned antiretroviral treatment interruptions as part of a therapeutic intervention. Treatment interruptions are necessary to test the efficacy of an intervention, in part to analyze how and to what extent HIV has been controlled.

Dr. Duette aims to see if cycles of therapy interruption and re-initiation lead to an increase of CD8+ killer T cells capable of clearing HIV-infected cells from the body and can influence the genetic makeup of rebounding virus. While HIV begins replicating rapidly in most people who stop treatment, a select few are able to control the virus for months or even years. With a $179,995 grant, Dr. Duette will study a cohort of these individuals to better understand why they’re able to control their HIV infection after treatment interruption.

Dr. Simone Richardson

Noted Dr. Duette: “Since childhood, I dreamed of achieving scientific breakthroughs to benefit society. By furthering my research into the elimination of HIV infection, the Mathilde Krim fellowship brings me another step closer to this dream. I am deeply grateful and look forward to honoring Mathilde Krim’s remarkable legacy of compassion and hope for people living with HIV.”

Dr. Simone Richardson will study a segment of antibody molecules known as Fc, known to regulate anti-HIV immune responses produced by potent antibodies. At her lab at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr. Richardson will examine the possibility that Fc functions are optimized by the evolution of certain antibody mutations. She receives $179,164 for the study, which could contribute to the development of both therapeutic and protective HIV vaccines.

“The Mathilde Krim fellowship helps me step into independent research in a field where I form part of a large team that fights to alleviate the disproportionate burden of HIV in my home country, South Africa. I hope to always foster global health equity through scientific innovation,” said Dr. Richardson.

Dr. Kalen Petersen. Photo courtesy Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Dr. Kalen Petersen. Photo courtesy Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

With funding of $179,757, Dr. Kalen Petersen of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, looks to better understand biological aging processes in people living with HIV, especially changes to the brain and cognition. Due to increased life expectancy thanks to antiretroviral therapy, more than half of those living with HIV in the U.S. are over the age of 50. HIV is known to increase systemic inflammation, even in those on antiretroviral therapy, but whether the virus accelerates aging and aging-related health concerns is the subject of debate.

“The Krim fellowship will allow me to investigate protective factors that help people to flourish despite the challenges that accompany HIV-positive status,” said Dr. Petersen. “My mentor Dr. Beau Ances and I have investigated cognitive impairment and deleterious brain changes, but we are excited to study the flip side of this topic—resilience—using neuroimaging, epigenetics, and social/structural variables.”

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