October 15, 2004

HIV/AIDS research gets $1.2 million boost

Featured Image

Christopher R. Aiken, Ph.D.

HIV/AIDS research gets $1.2 million boost

Christopher R. Aiken, Ph.D., has a message for graduate students: “There's funding for you in HIV/AIDS research.”

Aiken, associate professor of Microbiology & Immunology, is the director of a new five-year, $1.2 million HIV/AIDS Research Training Program. The program, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will support four graduate students each year.

The program is an experiment of sorts, Aiken said.

“I view this as a pilot program because it's very focused (on HIV/AIDS research),” he said. “We're thrilled that it was so well-received by the reviewers, and we're looking forward to it being successful.”

Vanderbilt's growing strength in HIV/AIDS research motivated Aiken to apply for a training grant with special emphasis in this area. The NIH funding last year of the Vanderbilt-Meharry Developmental Center for AIDS Research, directed by Richard T. D'Aquila, M.D., Addison B. Scoville Professor of Medicine, was a “stamp of approval on Vanderbilt's AIDS research program,” Aiken said.

“We thought that additional support for graduate student training would nicely complement the strong AIDS research infrastructure,” he added.

“It is rewarding to observe the emergence of Vanderbilt as a center of excellence in research and training in the field of HIV/AIDS, as this pandemic disease threatens entire communities and continents,” said Jacek Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D., Oswald T. Avery Distinguished Professor and Chair of Microbiology & Immunology.

Based in the department of Microbiology & Immunology, the new training program includes seven faculty members.

This relatively small number of mentors distinguishes the HIV/AIDS program from other training programs that traditionally have supported students and fellows in many laboratories with a broad range of research areas.

Participating faculty members include Aiken, D'Aquila, Spyros A. Kalams, M.D., Richard B. Kim, M.D., Virginia L. Shepherd, Ph.D., Paul W. Spearman, M.D., and Derya Unutmaz, M.D. The group's research interests span a spectrum of HIV/AIDS research, from the basic virology of HIV to HIV-host cell interactions and the immune response to how drug transporters and genetic variations affect drug therapy and clinical outcomes. Aiken, D'Aquila, and Spearman, associate professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology & Immunology, will serve as the program’s steering committee.

The new grant adds to an impressive array of training programs in the department of Microbiology & Immunology, a logical home for a program focused on a virus that decimates the immune system.

“I am very proud that Chris and his colleagues have added this fifth NIH-funded training grant to our department-based programs,” Hawiger said. “Gaining support from the NIH for a new training program in this highly competitive time reflects a strong recognition of Chris and the training faculty for advances made in deciphering the AIDS virus and for training a new generation of young scientists.”

Aiken credited the departmental administrative staff, especially Mark A. Hughes, for aspects of the grant — detailed tables of historical data on trainees and faculty collaborations that drew praise from the reviewers.

As part of the program, Aiken and colleagues will develop a new course called “Current Topics in HIV/AIDS Research” to be offered for the first time next spring.

The program also will support journal clubs and special seminars as well as recruiting efforts focused on minority students.