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Xiang to explore lactobacillus as anti-HIV agent

jbrehm2, August 24, 2011 | View original publication

Xiang to explore lactobacillus as anti-HIV agent

University of Nebraska-Lincoln virologist Shi-hua Xiang has won the university's first Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations grant.

The initiative enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent global health and development challenges. Xiang, a scientist in the Nebraska Center for Virology, explores the use of lactobacillus bacteria as an anti-HIV agent.

The grant for $611,000 announced this month is one of 12 Phase II grants in the Grand Challenges Explorations that will foster creative projects that show great promise to improve the health of people in the developing world. Global health topics are targeted to diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Xiang's research proposes engineering lactobacillus, bacteria which normally reside in human genitals and the gastrointestinal tract, to carry anti-HIV agents such as neutralizing antibodies, peptides or other inhibitors. He and his colleagues hypothesized that introducing the engineered bacteria into the gastrointestinal tract would allow the bacteria to colonize and provide long-lasting protection against the virus.

In Phase I of his research Xiang demonstrated that the engineered anti-HIV lactobacillus can efficiently block HIV infection in a tissue culture system. The approach will now be tested, with this funding, in a non-human primate model.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from more than 40 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-up grant of up to $1 million.

Projects like Xiang's that receive 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 such as malaria and HIV. To learn more about the next open round of Grand Challenges Explorations, visit www.grandchallenges.org.

Charles Wood, director of the Nebraska Center for Virology, said the awards are significant because of their potential impact and their prestige. The research award is the first of its kind for Nebraska.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation award indicates the significance of the cutting edge research that is being carried out by Dr. Xiang and others at the Nebraska Center for Virology, since there are very few of these awards given out worldwide," he said. "This also speaks about the translational and applied nature of our research, that ultimately benefits human health and will save lives."

Formed in 2000, the Nebraska Center for Virology, www.unl.edu/virologycenter, combines the expertise and facilities of Nebraska's leading biomedical research institutions: the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University. Its research focuses on pathogenic and therapeutic questions of some the most devastating viral and neuroimmune disorders facing the global community including molecular, epidemiological, and biochemical approaches to address fundamental questions concerning viral replication, latency, assembly and pathogenesis. These projects include the investigation of mechanisms of HIV replication and pathogenesis; and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, prion diseases and HIV-1-associated dementia. Other projects involve chronic and latent infections caused by viruses such as herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr and Kaposi's sarcoma associated herpesvirus. Investigators are also studying viral host interactions including the mechanism of viral induced cellular transformation.

Xiang is a research associate professor who joined the center earlier this year after 13 years as a research fellow and instructor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He focuses on viral entry of HIV-1, vaccine development, and microbiota/microflora on mucosal surfaces.