Researcher Awarded Grant to Develop HIV Vaccine

David Watkins's $9.9 million grant is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Coral Gables (July 16, 2012) — David Watkins, professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Pathology, has been awarded a $9.9 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop an HIV vaccine.

With approximately 30 million people living with HIV, an effective vaccine against the virus is among the world’s top public health priorities, and Watkins already has played a key role in uncovering how some rare HIV-infected humans control replication of HIV, a finding that  could lead to novel vaccine strategies.

With his new five-year grant, Watkins and his team will investigate ways to make an effective vaccine against HIV using the yellow fever vaccine.

“We will be exploring the idea that we can insert fragments of the AIDS virus into the yellow fever vaccine and use this to induce immune responses against the AIDS virus,” Watkins explained.

This work cuts across national boundaries and includes a long-standing collaboration with a group from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, home to leading experts and producers of the majority of the world’s supply of the yellow fever vaccine. Watkins also will collaborate with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York and the Scripps Institute in California.

Watkins joined the Miller School faculty this year, becoming a key member in its acclaimed HIV/AIDS research program, which was recently recognized by the National Institutes of Health as Florida’s first and only Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), a prestigious designation awarded to only 21 of the nation’s most prolific and promising AIDS research institutions. With its new designation, the Miller School’s Developmental Center for AIDS Research is transitioning to a full CFAR and will receive a significant increase in NIH funding – nearly $7 million over five years – to enhance existing research and nurture new research in HIV/AIDS.

Richard J. Cote, professor and the Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Chair of Pathology, said the department is extremely pleased that Watkins has joined its growing faculty. “He is a real leader in the department’s efforts to help solve some of the most complex medical problems facing people throughout the world and a tremendous asset to the already world-renowned HIV programs at the Miller School. Dr. Watkins’ work in HIV/AIDS and dengue fever research has the potential to impact the lives of millions of people.”

Further underscoring the Miller School’s stature as one of the nation’s leaders for the treatment, research, and prevention of HIV, NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Magic Johnson Enterprises announced in June it was partnering with the Miller School and Simply Healthcare Plans’ Clear Health Alliance to provide high quality medical services to the growing number of Medicaid-eligible people with HIV/AIDS in Miami-Dade County, which leads the nation in the number of new AIDS cases per capita.


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