amfAR Announces 2021 Mathilde Krim Fellowship Recipients
New research fellows harness powerful technologies
in support of HIV vaccine and latency studies
NEW YORK, March 9, 2021 — amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has announced the 2021 recipients of the Mathilde Krim Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Research. The fellowships will support an HIV vaccine study by Aleksandar Antanasijevic, Ph.D., of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, and a study of the genes involved in maintaining HIV latency by Ujjwal Rathore, Ph.D., of the Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, CA. The researchers were each awarded $150,000 over two years.
Named for amfAR’s Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim, the Fellowship program addresses the gap created by the dwindling sources of support available to young scientists. “These young researchers are often the ones with the most innovative and daring ideas – ideas with breakthrough potential,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s Chief Executive Officer. “Krim Fellows address unmet research needs across HIV, from developing new drug treatments, to optimizing vaccine design and searching for a cure.”
Born and raised in Serbia, Dr. Antanasijevic is a postdoctoral researcher who was recognized with a Pavle Savic Award for outstanding success during his undergraduate studies at the University of Belgrade. He completed his doctoral studies in Chicago, where he received numerous honors, including the Dean’s Scholar Award and Outstanding Thesis award.
The relative ease with which researchers have developed a raft of vaccines for the coronavirus contrasts sharply with HIV, a complex and wily virus that has defied all attempts at a vaccine for the past four decades. Dr. Antanasijevic is using a sophisticated imaging technology called cryoEMPEM to address the obstacles that make developing an HIV vaccine so challenging.
CryoEMPEM allows researchers to examine biological structures at a resolution equivalent to just a couple of millionths the width of a human hair. Dr. Antanasijevic will use it to characterize interactions between antibodies and different regions of the HIV spike protein. Using this information, he will attempt to devise vaccines that force the exposure of those spike protein regions that would generate the most useful immune responses, and will test how well they generate antibody responses that would cover a wide range of HIV strains.
Dr. Rathore’s research seeks to understand how human cells help maintain HIV latency, a main barrier to a cure. Using a newly developed CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system, Dr. Rathore plans to identify which human genes regulate HIV latency in CD4+ T cells. He will systematically disrupt genes in CD4 T cells and observe the effects that the removal of each gene has on the ability of HIV to reactivate from infected cells. Knowing which genes contribute to locking down HIV into a permanently persisting state will guide efforts to develop drugs that disrupt HIV persistence.
Dr. Rathore conducted his early scientific work in India, where he performed in the top one-quarter percent of all Indian students in biotechnology. Working in San Francisco when the coronavirus hit, Dr. Rathore recognized the need to apply his virology expertise to this new global health emergency and he participated in a number of important coronavirus studies and international collaborations. Some of this research was recognized by the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“Our new Mathilde Krim Fellows exemplify the talent, intellect and drive needed to overcome the complex scientific challenges that stand in the way of a cure and a vaccine for HIV,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR Vice President and Director of Research. “As bold and imaginative young investigators, they are quick to embrace these innovative and powerful new technologies and to recognize their potential for unmasking HIV’s hidden vulnerabilities.”
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and advocacy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $575 million in its programs and has awarded more than 3,300 grants to research teams worldwide.