University of Michigan earns $21 million grant to study HIV virus behavior

Federal grant establishes the Center for HIV RNA Studies where researchers hope to find innovative treatment methods for AIDS, other diseases

A new $21-million grant will help researchers at the University of Michigan Health System better understand the HIV virus on a molecular level, potentially paving the way for new treatment approaches to AIDS and other diseases.

The National Institutes of Health grant, which will be distributed during a five-year period, establishes the Center for HIV RNA Studies, or CRNA.

Alice Telesnitsky, Ph.D. and a professor of microbiology and immunology at the U-M Medical School, will head the CRNA and says the grant brings together researchers in a variety of disciplines to tackle the sometimes tricky HIV-1 RNA molecule, which plays an essential role in a virus’ ability to reproduce itself.

“Viruses are made up of proteins and RNA, and most research focuses on the proteins,” she says. “Because RNA is a simple molecule, it can sometimes appear nondescript when we look at it. This grant will unite a team of people who will look at RNA on different scales, assessing its structure, movement and replication.”

Telesnitsky says a better understanding of RNA’s biological processes could ultimately lead to innovative treatments for AIDS and other human diseases.

Researchers from Telesnitsky’s lab at U-M, as well as scientists from 13 other institutions across the country, will use the NIH grant to take a multidisciplinary approach to the research.

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