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Professor to receive grant

A UCSD professor will be the benefactor of a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to the Veterans Medical Research Foundation to further HIV/AIDS research for the medical research agency.

The award is one of the first under the federal stimulus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act providing a minor boost for the region’s biotech industry.

The grant will be used in the research of Douglas D. Richman, M.D., a staff physician and researcher at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and a Veterans Medical Research Foundation-affiliated physician researcher who is also a professor of pathology and medicine at UCSD. His research seeks to understand the mechanism by which the HIV virus remains latent and evades treatment.

The La Jolla-based veterans foundation is a private organization that supports the world-class biomedical research conducted by the physician scientists affiliated with both the VA San Diego Healthcare system and UCSD. HIV/AIDS is just one area where staff hopes to make a difference. Research is also being conducted in other areas including oncology, cardiovascular disease and bioterrorism.

Richman said, “The research that led to the development of pharmaceutical agents to suppress the virus is one of the great scientific triumphs of the past 25 years.”

He noted that “though millions of Americans are living with the HIV virus chronically suppressed, it remains latent, and can become resistant to drug therapy or come back if treatment lapses. This research is the next logical step to finding a cure.”

Kerstin Lynam, chief executive officer of the Veterans Medical Research Foundation, - the second largest of 85 active Veterans Affairs foundations throughout the country and the region’s only medical research institution dedicated to veterans - said, “If we can take out the virus while it’s latent and it never breaks out, then you’re cured.”

She noted that work being done by researchers such as Richman is critical because “the more data you have, the easier it is to attract more funding.”

Richman’s laboratory-based study attempts to activate the HIV virus by using histone deacetylasses inhibitors, which are a class of enzymes responsible for maintaining HIV latency. The premise is that the inhibitors can “smoke out” and target the latently infected cells that harbor the virus without harming or altering the uninfected cells.

Richman noted that anti-retroviral therapy has seen dramatic accomplishments in the last 20 years pioneering AIDS treatment and prognosis.

“The purpose is to change from chronic suppression (of AIDS) to a cure,” he said, explaining the very long-range and difficult goal of his research.