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NIH Grants $3.5M to UCSC for AIDS 'Omics Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health has granted scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz $3.5 million to use genomics to study HIV evolution and host immunity based on technology developed with Monogram Biosciences, the university said on Wednesday.

Scientists at UCSC's Jack Baskin School of Engineering will use the five-year grant to conduct bioinformatics and genomics-based studies of HIV and the human immune system in the early stages of infection.

The "swarm analysis" approach the researchers will employ was developed through a collaboration with Monogram Biosciences, which is based in South San Francisco. The method has been used to study natural variations in the virus that emerge in the early stages of HIV infections.

"We've made use of the natural variation in viral gene sequences to identify the binding sites recognized by broadly neutralizing antibodies," said Philip Berman, who is lead investigator for the award and chair of biomolecular engineering at the Baskin School, in a statement. "By looking at viruses from very early infections, we're seeing variations that hadn't been seen before."

Berman's lab recently reported that it had identified a novel structural element in an HIV coat protein that could be used to develop a vaccine.

"We think that by making a vaccine based on this structure where the binding sites are exposed, it will stimulate a broadly neutralizing antibody response," Berman said. "One of the main hypotheses in HIV vaccine research is that if a vaccine could induce those broadly neutralizing antibodies, it would work. None of the current vaccines do that."

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