A local foundation awarded The George Washington University researchers nearly $80,000 to further their work to eradicate AIDS in those already infected.
The Campbell Foundation, located in Fort Lauderdale, accepted the university’s proposal for a very specific amount of aid: $79,375.
“By the time this grant is going to be over, they will have spent exactly to the penny,” laughed Ken Rapkin, program officer at the Campbell Foundation.
The researchers at GWU in Washington, D.C. are hoping to find a way to destroy “reservoirs” of infection in the body without damaging healthy surrounding cells. Even with a lifetime of treatment, these dormant HIV/AIDS cells remain. Should a patient decide to stop taking drugs, those cells could “wake up” and infect a patient who previously had an undetectable virus load.
“The medicine is doing its thing, but they can never go off that medicine,” Rapkin said. “They have to keep taking the drugs even if there’s no detectable HIV in their blood, and so the side effects really lead to a lot of other conditions that are in some ways crippling.”
The medicine puts one’s body into hyper-overdrive, like when it’s fighting a fever, but it’s every day. This leads to side effects such as facial wasting, buffalo humps and weak bones. The problem is that researchers need to be able to find those dormant reservoirs of cells by discovering what the biomarker is. Once they can identify it, the next step is to figure out how to destroy them without damaging surrounding cells.
With money from the Campbell Foundation, the GWU researchers are hoping to get closer to finding these biomarkers.
For 19 years, the nonprofit has funded one-year grants for HIV/AIDS laboratory research and has given out more than $9.5 million since its inception. At the end of the year, the foundation also divvies up funding to local AIDS-related agencies, hospitals and nonprofits.
While there are much larger grant funders, what sets Campbell apart is that it will take on projects tackling the germ of ideas that usually will be turned down by bigger organizations. With a year of research, they can put together a concise proposal for more funding.
“Our work is kind-of ground floor, but many of them go on to present to NIH and the Gates Foundation,” Rapkin said. “That’s what gets us into work every day; it’s the hope that somehow, some way they’re going to hit on it someday.”
The GWU researchers are required to submit quarterly progress reports to the Campbell Foundation, and a year after the grant is over, they will follow up on patents, continuing research, and more. This year, the Campbell Foundation also awarded grants to Johns Hopkins University and a VA medical center in Vermont.
Originally published in South Florida Gay News.