The Creative and Novel Ideas in HIV Research (CNIHR) award is a special research award from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) started through the Office of AIDS Research and the NIH-funded Centers for AIDS Research and designed to bring new young people into HIV research. Dr. Asokan is recognized for his work on "Combating HIV infection by fusion inhibitor gene therapy.”
Aravind is a chemist turned virologist at the UNC Gene Therapy Center. His primary and secondary appointments are in Departments of Genetics and Biochemistry & Biophysics, respectively. Work in his lab is focused on studying adeno-associated viruses (AAV) and applying protein engineering techniques to tweak their biology. As part of the UNC Gene Therapy Center led by Jude Samulski, the lab has had a longstanding history of developing innovative virus-based tools for potentially curing genetic disorders in humans. The approach behind the "Creative and Novel Ideas in HIV Research (CNIHR)" application was conceived based on my discussions with Ron Swanstrom, who is a leading expert in HIV research. Ron brought up the observation that a particular class of anti-HIV drugs that work by blocking viral fusion to cells face several delivery and resistance-related issues. Ron encouraged Aravind to consider the possibility that a gene therapy-driven solution might help address these challenges. Aravind then devised a strategy to re-engineer these anti-HIV drugs for delivery using recombinant AAV vectors. Together with Victor Garcia-Martinez, another leading expert in the HIV field, Aravind hopes to develop and validate these prospective new tools in preclinical models of HIV infection. Aravind feel incredibly fortunate that the idea caught the attention of peer reviewers at the NIH/Centers for Aids Research (CFAR) and he is excited to work closely with the Garcia and Swanstrom labs on this new venture.
Dr. Asokan will also attend the International AIDS Society 2014 conference in Melbourne, Australia from July 20-25th. Learn more about his research: www.med.unc.edu/geneticsdept/asokanlab/Asokan_Lab/Home.html