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Kumar Leader In HIV Cure Research Collaboratory

August 31, 2021
by Julie Parry

Priti Kumar, PhD, associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases), will co-direct Yale School of Medicine’s HIV cure research program, as part of a new $26.5M grant from the National Institutes of Health’s flagship program, Martin Delaney Collaboratories (MDC) for HIV Cure Research.

The team, consisting of researchers from Yale School of Medicine (YSM), Gladstone Institutes, Scripps Research Florida, and Weill Cornell Medicine, will partner on the HIV Obstruction by Programmed Epigenetics (HOPE) Collaboratory. Kumar will lead the YSM contingent.

“Our approach is to permanently silence the HIV genome, which is integrated in human chromosomes, by harnessing epigenetic mechanisms which already exist in the cells, leading to a cure. This is in contrast to other currently explored approaches that activate HIV for killing the infected cell, which can have serious complications for patients,” explained Kumar.

With participants across 12 institutions, the collaboratory will utilize YSM’s specialized, humanized mouse models, developed in Kumar’s lab, to test various therapeutics developed through this program.

Kumar began this research during her postdoctoral studies at Harvard. She started working with biologics, like siRNA to target RNA viruses. “My interest started in the use of biologics for cure and translating them to human infections, and this is where it’s led. Animal models for HIV infection like humanized mice are not commonplace, and there are few institutions with the capacity to conduct this level of research,” she said.

She credits this work as part of the reason she was recruited to YSM. Kumar began to look at using humanized mouse models for a possible HIV cure. “When I started, I think there were 2 or 3 researchers who were working with HIV from a basic angle and a translational perspective, but now we have more than 30 researchers working with us. I'm very glad to say that we are collaborating with so many stellar scientists, because they now use our humanized mouse models as translational systems for their candidate antiretroviral interventions. Our collaborations also extend to the newly-funded ERASE-HIV (Enterprise for Research and Advocacy to Stop and Eradicate-HIV) Martin Delaney Collaboratory.”

The five-year grants started in August 2021. Peter Glazer, MD, PhD, Robert E. Hunter Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and Professor of Genetics, chair of Department of Therapeutic Radiology; and Ya-Chi Ho, MD, PhD, associate professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, at Yale School of Public Health and Medicine at YSM also participate in the Martin Delaney Collaboratories for HIV Cure Research.

The Department of Internal Medicine at Yale is among the nation's premier departments, bringing together an elite cadre of clinicians, investigators, and educators in one of the world's top medical schools. To learn more, visit Internal Medicine.

Submitted by Julie Parry on August 31, 2021