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Universal Communications

Researchers from University of Wisconsin’s National Primate Research Center have received a $6.5 million contract from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases to characterize primate genes.

UW research may eventually lead to advancements in AIDS vaccines and reducing rejection rates in organ transplants.

“The genes we are studying are in monkeys, but they are similar in humans,” Dr. David O’Connor, UW associate scientist, said. “As we characterize these genes, the model of how they work will be useful to researchers in the area of transplants, HIV/AIDS and biodefense.”

O’Connor emphasized the difference between a federal contract and a grant from unique institutions.
“We are directed to do something specific,” O’Connor said. “But receiving this grant validates that the government thinks the work we are doing here, specifically with SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus), is valuable.”

SIV is found in nonhuman primates, such as rhesus monkeys, and provides modeling for researching the effectiveness of HIV vaccines, according to O’Connor.

“We are trying to understand natural immune response of these genes and while there are no immediate therapies that come from the study, it could have an effect on making vaccine testing more effective,” he said.

John Loffredo, a UW graduate student studying T-Cells in the National Primate Research Center, said his work focuses on cell resistance to SIV.

“What we’re essentially doing is finding the good killers and the weak targets,” Loffredo said.

In addition to having implications for AIDS and HIV vaccines, the contract is also relevant to transplant research.

“The UW is already regarded as a leader in transplant research and this contract just clinches that fact,” Jordana Lenon, senior editor of the National Primate Center, said.

O’Connor stated, while working in the National Primate Research Center does not involve direct drug discovery, clinical applications could come out of the research 10 years down the road.

“Working with gene variants, we can determine ways to figure out whether an organ is compatible,” O’Connor said.

The UW team of scientists will also collaborate with the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in Rijswijk, Netherlands.