The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has designated the University of Rochester a Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), which means the university will receive $7.5 million throughout the next five years for HIV/AIDS work. The newest of 18 US CFARs, Rochester will use the funding to develop and nurture the careers of young HIV/AIDS researchers and to form collaborations that will lead to “high-impact discoveries.” One such alliance will link the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the Institute of Optics on the River Campus. To qualify as an NIH CFAR, an institution already must have a specified level of existing funding; the University of Rochester had $15.3 million in HIV/AIDS funding for 2011.
The Rochester CFAR will have two working groups. The first will focus on the interaction of HIV and the aging brain. More than 45 percent of URMC HIV patients are at least 50 years old. Improved treatment has led to longer survival for HIV-infected patients, but little is known about how HIV affects age-related cognitive decline. Harris A. Gelbard, MD, Ph.D., director of the Center for Neural Development and Disease, noted the working group will benefit from URMC expertise in neurology clinical trials and imaging techniques developed by the Institute of Optics.
The CFAR’s second area of emphasis will be understanding the structure and function of HIV RNA to learn more about how the virus replicates. A better understanding could lead to new drugs that can target latent HIV reservoirs, according to David H. Mathews, MD, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
To encourage innovation, the Rochester CFAR will employ a “speed dating” technique that pairs scientists from different disciplines to help them identify complementary areas of interest and spur new thinking.