Research Report: Most detailed picture yet of key AIDS protein

• Most detailed picture yet of key AIDS protein

Efforts to create an effective HIV vaccine have been stymied by the virus’s envelope protein (known as Env) whose complexity has long made it one of the most difficult problems in structural biology.

This formidable obstacle has been overcome by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Weill Cornell Medical College. After engineering a more stable version of Env, they applied cryo-electron microscopy and x-ray crystallography to capture the first atomic-level structure of the envelope protein.

The data illuminates the complex process by which Env assembles and later undergoes radical shape changes during infection. The new ability to fully image the structure also defines sites of vulnerability that could be targeted by vaccines.

— Findings appear in two papers in Science Express, the early online edition of the journal Science. News release at

• Monoclonal antibodies offer new HIV control approach

A different team of scientists from TSRI and other institutions has demonstrated that a group of recently discovered monoclonal antibodies could be a new tool to control HIV.

Previous research in mouse models found only a short-lived therapeutic effect from single antibodies, with the virus rebounding quickly.  The current study showed an antibody (PGT121) – discovered and reported by TSRI in 2011 – can stay active for several weeks in rhesus monkeys affected by an HIV-like virus (the simian-human immunodeficiency virus) – limiting the virus to low levels.

This opens up the possibility of using PGT121 in combination with antiretroviral drugs now used to treat HIV. Antiretroviral drugs tackle the replicating virus, whereas antibodies target the free virus as well as virally infected cells.

Going forward, researchers plan to gain a better understanding of why PGT121 is effective against the virus, as well as exploring the effect of combining antibodies with existing drugs.

— Findings appear in the journal Nature. News release at

• Economic boost of basic research

Two UC San Diego spinoffs are among 100 companies cited in a report touting the economic payoff of federally funded university research. The report by The Science Coalition, “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0,” illustrates one of the many returns on investment of federally funded scientific research: The creation of new companies.

Genomatica, a biotechnology company that grew from research conducted in Bernhard Palsson’s laboratory at UC San Diego, is working to transform the chemical industry by delivering new manufacturing processes that enable its partners to produce the world’s most widely-used chemicals from renewable feedstocks, with better economics and greater sustainability than petroleum-based processes. Initial support of the research came from NSF and NIH grants totaling $2.2 million.  Since its founding, Genomatica has raised $125 million in venture financing.

Senomyx, a provider of flavor ingredients for the food and beverage industries, arose from research conducted by Charles Zuker at UC San Diego. The company has collaborative agreements with global food, beverage and ingredient supply companies, some of which are currently marketing products that contain Senomyx’s flavor ingredients.  Eleven Senomyx flavor ingredients have received regulatory approvals in the U.S.; many of these have also been granted approval in additional countries.

The Science Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 50 of the nation’s leading public and private research universities. Its mission: “Sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, spur innovation and drive America’s global competitiveness.”

— News release at, more at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Nov 13, 2013. Filed under Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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