Two scientists pursuing work that could lead to an HIV vaccine or cure have each been awarded $150,000 over two years from amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. They are the 2019 recipients of amfAR’s Mathilde Krim Fellowship in Basic Biomedical Research, which goes to career scientists doing innovative work in the field of HIV/AIDS.

The 2019 fellows are Maolin Lu, PhD, of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Shaheed Abdulhaqq, PhD, of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, according to an amfAR press release.

Lu is a structural biologist known for using cutting-edge imaging techniques to capture the workings of molecules. She recently published a study on an HIV protein known as Env, which is highly variable (it changes a lot) and is located on HIV’s surface. HIV uses Env to bind to CD4 receptors on certain immune cells and infect them. Researchers hope that by better understanding Env, they can create a vaccine to prevent or treat HIV infection. Her work has already challenged current understandings about the protein. As a fellow, she hopes to continue working with her mentor, Walther Mothes, PhD, to map out how Env changes structurally as it targets and infects hosts cells.

The research of Abdulhaqq, who works in the lab of mentor Jonah Sacha, PhD, could contribute to an HIV cure. Looking at a 2011 vaccine study, he will investigate whether vaccine-induced CD8 immune cells prevented infection in the gut and whether they need to target HIV reservoirs in other tissues in order to be effective. He will use gene therapy to modify the CD8 cells and direct them to the reservoir.

The fellowship is named after amfAR’s founding chairman, Mathilde Krim, PhD, who died in January 2018. For more about the “The Mother of AIDS Advocacy,” click here or watch the video tribute above.

Through the fellowships, “amfAR has committed more than $8 million since 2008 to support the development and the work of outstanding young HIV/AIDS researchers,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s chief executive officer, in the press release. “These annual awards enable us to continually infuse the field with youthful vigor, exceptional talent and new ideas.”

“Through these awards,” added Rowena Johnston, PhD, amfAR vice president and director of research, “we remain committed to identifying and supporting talented early career scientists who have the skills and vision to lead us to new breakthroughs and further progress toward ending the AIDS epidemic.”

For recent POZ articles about Env proteins and HIV vaccine research, see “Early HIV Vaccine Trial Builds on Moderately Successful Predecessor” and “HIV Vaccine Candidat4 Gives Rise to Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies on Rabbits.”

And for a report on a fraudulent and deadly scam touting to be a cure, read “GOP Firebrand Alan Keyes Helps Sell Toxic Bleach as an HIV Cure.”