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GSU faculty awarded $1.3 million to study HIV structure

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 – Ann Claycombe

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One of the things that has made the HIV epidemic so difficult to control is the virus’ ability to evolve, creating drug-resistant strains. Two Georgia State University professors have received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to find new medications to fight these new strains of the disease.

“This is the renewal of an award that has been funded now for 20 years,” wrote Irene Weber, Regents’ Professor of Biology and Chemistry, who has studied the disease for much of her career.

Weber’s co-principal investigator, Professor Robert Harrison of Computer Science, is a specialist in computational chemistry and in bioinformatics, which uses computers to compile and visualize vast amounts of biological data.

In earlier phases of the project, Weber and her team found a unique drug resistance mechanism in some strains of HIV. The team’s maps of the virus have also led to the design of new drugs that are 10 times as effective as darunavir, a common treatment for drug-resistant HIV.

The NIH grant will fund the continuation of the team’s work. Specifically, the team will continue to integrate different approaches – computational chemistry, X-ray crystallography, and other biophysical and biochemical techniques - to clarify the protein structure of drug-resistant HIV strains. The goal, as always, is to use those insights in designing new drugs.

Other researchers on the grant include Professor Arun Ghosh of Purdue University (who discovered darunavir), Hiroaki Mitsuya, senior investigator with the National Cancer Institute, and Dr. John Louis of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

HIV virus molecule.