July 24, 2009

Hicar lands young investigator award

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Mark Hicar, M.D., Ph.D.

Hicar lands young investigator award

Mark Hicar, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical instructor in the division of Pediatric Infectious Disease, has received the 2009 Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) Wyeth Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development. The award provides $60,000 in research funding.

Hicar, who began at Vanderbilt as a resident in 2002, has been working with James Crowe, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Spyros Kalams, M.D., director of viral immunology studies in the Vanderbilt Infectious Diseases Unit, and Paul Spearman, M.D., director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Epidemiology, and Immunology, at Emory University.

Hicar and his mentors have been working on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to look closely at the B cells of long-term survivors of HIV infection.

“Mark’s data is already giving us insights into how the body’s own immune system can kill some strains of HIV, pointing the way toward a rational basis for HIV vaccine design,” Crowe said. “We are gratified to see that his significant contributions are already being recognized at the national level by this very competitive award.”

Hicar has been able to describe an antibody to a protein envelope “spike” that he theorizes has been able to protect these survivors. HIV’s ever-changing protein envelope has limited the success of vaccines in the past, but Hicar and his mentors hope that describing this spike structure and its matching antibodies,may lead to a new vaccine that protects against the shape-shifting HIV.

“It is really quite an honor to be given such an award,” Hicar said. “I couldn't do this alone, and this honor reflects the hard work of my colleagues in the Crowe lab, members of the Vanderbilt/Meharry Center for AIDS Research and the excellent guidance of my mentors.”