30 Nov 2018

Funding boost to make Melbourne a leading hub for HIV cure research

Dr James McMahon
Eight Melbourne research teams have received grants totalling $646,000 from the Melbourne HIV Cure Consortium (MHCC), a collaborative research effort aiming to accelerate efforts to find a cure for HIV.

The recipients include Dr James McMahon, Head of The Alfred’s Department of Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit, who received a grant to expand a clinical trial to find rare infected cells in people on HIV treatment using a radioactive label followed by an MRI.

There are 36.7 million  people living with HIV around the world in what’s now considered a manageable condition with antiretroviral treatment in most cases. But costs of maintaining HIV treatment and other programs are becoming more substantial, estimated to reach $22.3 billion by 2030.

In 2017, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awarded $1.2 million to the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) to establish the MHCC which brings together experts in virology, immunology, drug development, neuroscience and social sciences working towards a cure.

The first round of grants awarded and announced today, on the eve of World AIDS Day, demonstrate the breadth of world-leading HIV cure research that is currently being undertaken in Melbourne.

Dr McMahon said, “We have been able to link radioactive copper to an anti-HIV antibody that can latch on to an infected cell. We then infuse a low-dose of this radioactive copper and antibody, and do a scan to detect the amount and location of the copper, and therefore identify where HIV is 'hiding' on treatment.

“This funding will extend this project by doing the infusion at the same time as giving a drug that can wake up the virus, making it more visible. This could reveal further sites in the body where HIV resides and also where in the body this latency-reversing drug is having an effect.”

MHCC Community Advisory Board Chair, Craig Burnett, said the calibre of grant applications was incredible and is interested in seeing the projects come to fruition.

“As a community member living with HIV, I’m really proud to see this world-leading research coming out of my hometown of Melbourne,” Mr Burnett said.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me and the other members of the Community Advisory Board to be directly involved in the process, and see that while there is some great HIV cure research underway, we still have a long way to go.”

Victorian DHHS Executive Director for Community Participation, Health and Wellbeing, Peter Breadon, announced the successful grant recipients at the World AIDS Day Community Launch in Melbourne.

"Victoria is an international leader in the HIV response, and the Victorian Government's commitment to HIV cure research will help us continue this leadership. The selected recipients exemplify Victoria's partnership approach, and the central role of people living with HIV in ending this epidemic,” Mr Breadon said.

Applications for the 2019 MHCC Grants will be open early next year, more information available on the Doherty Institute website.

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