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NIAID to Fund Research into Vector-Host Interactions

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases plans to fund research focused on better understanding the biology and immunology of natural viral infections and HIV vaccine vectors, including studies that will use a wide range of omics approaches.

NIAID said in a funding announcement on Friday it will support R01 research project grants for five years, and it will fund R21 exploratory or development projects with up to $275,000 over two years to pursue these studies.

The overarching goal will be to gain a clearer understanding of vector-host interactions that could help reduce the adverse events that these interactions can cause, including the increased susceptibility some people have to HIV infection after vaccination.

The vaccine and gene therapy fields have used an increasing array of vectors for delivering vaccines and targeted genes, but little is known about how these vectors interact with hosts, or how they impact hosts' immune responses. Recently, a number of unexpected findings in both the gene therapy and vaccine fields have shown that there is a need for more knowledge about these interactions, NIAID said.

For example, two vaccine efficacy trials were halted after either failing or increasing the rate of HIV infection in some patients, a clinical trial of an adeno-associated viral vector for hemophilia B was stopped when several study participants developed transient hepatitis, and poxvirus vectors used in vaccine development have been linked to myocarditis in clinical studies. There may be a range of causes behind these reactions, and there are several hypotheses, NIAID said.

"These unanticipated results illustrate the need for understanding of the basic biology and immunology of vector-host relationships and for appropriate animal models to study rare and unanticipated events," it added.

Researchers may propose using a wide range of systems biology and other approaches, including genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and other methods, to investigate the pathogenesis and immune responses to natural viral infections in humans and in nonhuman primates.

NIAID also wants this research to develop better safety models, including animal models, for assessing effects that are related to vaccines, such as increased HIV infection rates due to immune activated vector-specific HIV T-cells. These models would be used to quantitatively assess the potential for increased HIV acquisition following vaccination, enabling researchers to conduct better preclinical assessments of vaccine candidates.

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