amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR Announces New Round of Cure-Focused Research Grants

Three teams of leading scientists receive amfAR funding in collaborative effort to pursue HIV eradication

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager,, (212) 806-1602


NEW YORK, September 14, 2012—On the heels of the XIX International AIDS Conference and progress reported there on the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research on Friday announced three new grants to research teams as part of the Foundation’s two-year-old amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE).

“There was a lot of discussion at July’s International AIDS Conference about the importance of collaboration among researchers in the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS, and amfAR is proud to be one of the leading organizations funding this kind of important work,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “It’s gratifying to know that the work we’re funding through ARCHE is both building on and contributing to our collective knowledge of how we might cure HIV, and that scientists working in different fields are coming up with creative ways to work together and make real progress.”

“In just two years, ARCHE has not only shaken up the AIDS research world by contributing vital findings to the field, but it has given us a deeper understanding of how and why some interventions work effectively,” said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston. “These three new projects follow up on recent findings, which will hopefully accelerate the search for a cure that can be applied widely and safely for the 34 million people who need one.”

Following up on a presentation he made at the International AIDS Conference, Dr. Timothy Henrich of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston will use the case of the “Berlin patient”—the only person believed to have been cured of HIV infection—to examine the mechanisms involved in the patient’s treatment that contributed to eradicating HIV in his body. The Berlin patient was cured following treatment for his lymphoma, during which he received a stem-cell transplant with cells from a donor selected for the CCR5 delta32 mutation, and thus resistant to HIV infection. Two of Dr. Henrich’s HIV-positive patients, however, went through similar stem-cell treatments using a donor without the CCR5 mutation and now show no signs of HIV infection. Dr. Henrich aims to determine which elements of the Berlin patient’s treatment were critical to his cure—findings that may guide attempts at designing a cure that could be applied more widely.

Another ARCHE grant will go to Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts, who hope to determine if it is possible to cure HIV infection with antiretroviral therapy (ART) alone in children in whom ART had been started soon after birth and continued for an average of 15 years. Following a presentation they made at an amfAR think tank in June about a group of five such children with no detectable HIV and who remain HIV-antibody negative, Drs. Persaud and Luzuriaga will use highly sophisticated tests to search for active and latent virus in their patients. amfAR has long funded research studies dedicated to eradicating HIV in children, having pioneered research that ultimately led to the use of ART to block mother-to-child transmission.

A third ARCHE study will continue to investigate the ability of disulfiram—a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat alcoholism—to flush the virus out of latently HIV-infected cells. The study, conducted by third-time ARCHE grantee Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Julian Elliott of Monash University in Australia, will build on a smaller clinical study conducted by Dr. Deeks that suggested that the drug may reverse HIV latency in some subjects. The current study involves a larger number of subjects, more intensive and wide-ranging measurements of changes in latent HIV, and several doses of the drug.

ARCHE-funded research teams and their projects are as follows: 

Monash University, Melbourne, Australia 
Julian Elliott, M.D., Ph.D. – principal investigator 
Steven Deeks, M.D. – collaborating investigator (UCSF) 
Short-Term Disulfiram Administration to Reverse Latent HIV Infection: Drs. Elliott and Deeks will investigate in a group of HIV-infected subjects the ability of disulfiram to induce dormant HIV out of latency so that the virus is susceptible to antiretroviral therapy. This combination approach could lead to a practical means of curing HIV. In previous ARCHE research disulfiram, a drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcoholism, was identified as able to propel dormant HIV out of latency in the test tube, and ARCHE research has identified several potential molecular mechanisms whereby this is achieved. Dr. Deeks previously conducted a small ARCHE clinical study of disulfiram that suggested the drug is safe in this population and may reverse HIV latency in some subjects. The current study involves a larger number of subjects, more intensive and wide-ranging measurements of changes in latent HIV, and several doses of the drug. This study will increase our knowledge of the potential for this strategy—reversing HIV latency and targeting resulting virus outgrowth with antiretroviral therapy—to cure HIV.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA 
Timothy Henrich, M.D. – principal investigator 
HIV-1 Reservoir Reduction Following Allogeneic Stem-Cell Transplantation: In the only confirmed case of an HIV cure to date, the HIV-positive “Berlin patient” underwent a stem-cell transplant to treat his leukemia. The transplant donor was a person with an uncommon genetic mutation called CCR5delta32/delta32; people with this mutation are healthy but in addition are highly resistant to HIV infection. Before the transplant the Berlin patient underwent intensive chemotherapy, anti-T cell antibody infusions, and full body irradiation. Because several different interventions were involved in this one case, it remains unclear which single intervention or combination thereof was critical to achieving the HIV cure. Dr. Henrich is treating HIV-positive patients with various types of cancer that also require stem-cell transplants. His patients undergo a different chemotherapy regimen, no irradiation, and transplantation with common donor stem cells lacking the CCR5 mutation. Two of these patients have no sign of HIV in their bodies, according to studies conducted so far. Dr. Henrich will conduct more detailed studies of these patients to search for signs of persistent HIV infection, and will withdraw these patients from their antiretroviral drugs under very controlled conditions as the strict test to determine whether these patients have been cured of HIV. This study will help us understand which elements of the Berlin patient’s treatment were critical to his cure, and may guide attempts at designing a cure that could be applied more widely.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
Deborah Persaud, M.D. – principal investigator
Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D. – collaborating investigator (UMassMed) 
Quantifying HIV Persistence under Early HAART in Children: Children born to HIV-positive mothers are at risk of acquiring HIV in utero or during birth. As a result of discoveries made in the mid-1990s, increasing numbers of infants worldwide are administered antiretroviral therapy shortly after birth to help prevent HIV transmission. In some infants, this intervention does not prevent the infection, but such infants then begin antiretroviral therapy very shortly after infection. Drs. Persaud and Luzuriaga are treating a number of adolescents who were born HIV positive and began antiretroviral therapy soon after birth. Their studies so far indicate that in five such individuals, no virus can be detected and the children test HIV negative. They plan to investigate more closely how the persistent reservoirs of virus, as well as the individuals’ immune response to the virus, may differ from what is commonly seen in people infected as adults, ultimately helping to determine whether such individuals may be cured. Their studies will shed light on the potential of antiretroviral therapy to alter the course of infection in ways that may differ dramatically to infection in adults.