February 11, 2011

$3M AIDS Grant Awarded to CWRU School of Medicine and Cleveland Clinic

A three-year, $3 million gift from the Richard J. Fasenmyer Foundation will fund research by a pair of Cleveland physicians into HIV and the body’s response in autoimmune diseases.

Stephanie Liscio
Michael Lederman

The award will support the joint efforts of immunologists Michael Lederman of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Leonard Calabrese of Cleveland Clinic, two nationally recognized investigators of HIV/AIDS who were among the first researchers to study the virus. The researchers will continue their nearly 30-year collaboration to investigate potential relationships between autoimmune, inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV/AIDS.

The grant will support the physicians’ Cleveland HIV Immunity Project (CHIP) around three specific goals:

  • Extend the scope and reach of the Cleveland Immune Failure (CLIF) clinical study launched in 2009, which looks at why many well-treated HIV patients fail to achieve a restored immune system despite effective therapy for the disease.
  • Study those individuals who are at high risk but have not contracted the HIV infection, including the establishment of a cohort of HIV negative individuals who engage in high-risk behaviors to explore what factors protect them from infection.
  • Examine the immune system response to drugs that reduce symptoms, but do not cure inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease and additionally explore the similarities among autoimmune diseases not previously thought to be related, such as HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The grant-funded project will build upon Northeast Ohio’s significant contributions to AIDS and immunology research. In 1983—two years after AIDS was first found in the U.S.—Case Western Reserve researchers published findings that AIDS is transmitted in blood products.

In 1994, the university established the first and only National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) in the Midwest, which was renewed in 2010 for $9 million. This center today manages an annual NIH research budget exceeding $20 million. Case Western Reserve University also continues a collaboration with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, started in 1997, which was the first U.S.-funded AIDS research laboratory in Africa.

Drawing on these nearly three decades of success, Calabrese and Lederman will combine expertise to explore disease pathways that previously were not thought to be related.

“In addition to helping us better understand why some people exposed to HIV do not get infected, this grant ultimately will help amplify current research to apply what we’ve learned about HIV immunology to better understand a host of other diseases—from rheumatology and endocrinology to cardiology and infectious diseases, among many others,” Lederman said.

Dr. Lederman is a faculty member and researcher at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a clinical immunologist specializing in infectious disease at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. He holds the Scott R. Inkley Chair in Medicine and is co-director of the CFAR. He serves as principal investigator of the Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Case Medical Center AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to continue collaboration that is furthering our understanding of the immune system as it relates to HIV. We now have the tools to investigate HIV and to explore the mechanisms underlying immune-based therapies, which has importance to our knowledge of how to fine-tune HIV treatment as we continue to see longer life expectancy in patients,” Calabrese said.

Dr. Calabrese heads Cleveland Clinic's Section of Clinical Immunology and manages its Clinical Immunology Clinic. He holds the R.J. Fasenmyer Chair in Clinical Immunology, established in 1999 with a $1.5 million gift from the foundation. He specializes in diseases of the immune system, including HIV and hepatitis C, and he is the only rheumatologist invited to sit on an NIH steering committee designed to investigate the risks posed by the biologics class of drugs. Dr. Calabrese also holds the ­Theodore F. Classen, DO, Chair in Osteopathic Research and Education.

 “This grant recognizes 28 years of dedication and collaborative research of Drs. Calabrese and Lederman and between Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University—the visionary institutions that support their work. Our investment affirms not only the concern for others that our founder, Richard Fasenmyer, showed during his lifetime, but also that the interplay of research and clinical care are critical to creating a future without HIV/AIDS,” said John Baechle, board president, Richard J. Fasenmyer Foundation.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, February 11, 2011 07:57 AM | News Topics:

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