28 Jan, 2023

Wistar Institute HIV Researchers Win Grant to Explore Genetically Engineered Natural Killer Cells as HIV Therapy

PHILADELPHIA — (Jan. 19, 2023) — amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has awarded Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., in collaboration with Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, Ph.D., a Target Grant for $397,663 over two years. Montaner, who leads The Wistar Institute’s HIV Research Program, is studying the ability of a type of immune cell known as natural killer (NK) cells to kill HIV-infected cells.

“This grant to Dr. Montaner is the latest of several awards we have made to outstanding scientists at The Wistar Institute,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR’s Vice President and Director of Research. “Dr. Montaner’s well-designed research project has significant potential for moving the HIV cure research field forward. We wish him and his team much success and look forward to receiving updates on their progress.”

Immunotherapy using gene-modified NK cells has been shown to be effective in treating some forms of cancer. Montaner and his team are studying whether the same effectiveness can be found in treating HIV. Montaner’s research relies on optimizing NK cells to effectively find and kill HIV-infected cells by modifying them outside the body to better bind to antibodies once infused as cell therapy. 

The approach will also include use of a strategy by the Abdel-Mohsen laboratory to alter antibodies to have greater potency in increasing NK cell killing. These strategies will be combined and tested in mouse models with functional human immune cells able to support HIV infection. They will determine efficacy and whether, upon halting antiretroviral therapy, HIV can continue to be controlled.

“The Montaner lab tests immunotherapy approaches that harness several arms of the immune response to win over HIV, including immunotherapy using NK cells,” said Montaner, vice president of Scientific Operations and principal investigator of the BEATHIV Delaney Collaboratory to Cure HIV. “This new amfAR grant will allow us to initiate new work that will expand our ongoing studies so we can continue to achieve significant milestones in our research to test HIV cure strategies.” 

Wistar is a member of the Delaney Collaboratory to Cure HIV-1 Infection by Combination Immunotherapy (BEATHIV Collaboratory), a consortium of more than 100 top HIV researchers working to test combinations of several innovative immunotherapies under new preclinical research and clinical trials, and one of the largest HIV-cure collaborations in the world. The Montaner lab and other groups in the BEATHIV Collaboratory were awarded a five-year award from the NIH last year.

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