UNC hosts elite CARE research consortium on HIV/AIDS

For the third straight year, the world’s top minds in the field of HIV/AIDS research gathered at UNC-Chapel Hill last week to advance science toward a cure for one of the greatest public health issues of our time.

The third annual meeting of the Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE), a UNC-led consortium founded in 2011 and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), brought together leading scientific experts from several U.S. and European academic research institutions as well as Merck Research Laboratories to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Wednesday, Chancellor Carol L. Folt addressed more than 100 researchers and partners of CARE. Folt highlighted the challenge of developing collective synergies in academic research and said she is honored that UNC is serving as a model for addressing one of the world’s great problems.

“UNC is enormously proud to be part of this journey of discovery toward an HIV cure with you,” Folt said. “This research creates breakthroughs, advances human knowledge and saves lives. This is exactly where a great public university shows its true strength and value.”

The two-day meeting, which ended Friday, served to advance the pipeline of ideas in the field of HIV research, from understanding the molecular mechanisms of latent HIV, which is not susceptible to antiretroviral therapy, to testing approaches in animal models and bringing that knowledge to human clinical trials.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to learn state-of-the-art research and technologies being used to solve this difficult public health problem. By being part of this elite consortium, students and young scientists from participating institutions also learned how collaborative research is done at the highest level.

Led by UNC-Chapel Hill’s David Margolis, the consortium consisted of 15 scientific projects and four core facilities at multiple universities nationwide. The researchers aim to identify where HIV hides – known as the HIV reservoir – and figure out how these hideouts are established and maintained. The ultimate goal is to develop small-molecule drug candidates and other therapies to target the viral reservoirs and eradicate HIV/AIDS.

“This is a time to get together and review our accomplishments and challenges in the past year and also strategize about what to focus on in the upcoming year to move the research forward,” said Margolis, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology and epidemiology at UNC’s School of Medicine. “Everybody in this room is not only sharing their progress but also soliciting input and ideas from other investigators to help make the research better.”

UNC-Chapel Hill has displayed extraordinary leadership in the international push to eradicate HIV, garnering the support of the NIAID, who is well represented at this week’s meeting, as well as the esteem of colleagues all over the world. Their work ranges from developing compounds that target HIV reservoirs to animal models that help test the efficacy of those compounds, and the best methods to administer those drugs and where they go in the body.

CARE began in 2011, when the NIAID sponsored three collaboratories under a program named after Martin Delaney, an influential AIDS activist who died of liver cancer in 2009. Each research team pursues a unique and complementary approach that could help rid the body of HIV.

By Thania Benios, UNC News Services

Published June 13, 2014.

Updated June 16, 2014