Searching for weapons to help wipe out AIDS
AIDS vaccine work can break your heart, says Leo Stamatatos. Things that look great on paper can turn out to be total flops. So he's careful not...
AIDS vaccine work can break your heart, says Leo Stamatatos. Things that look great on paper can turn out to be total flops. So he's careful not to oversell his latest project.
"It's so new, I have no idea if it's going to work," said the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute scientist.
That kind of doubt wouldn't fly with most funding agencies, but the Gates Foundation can afford to take risks. In fact, betting on dark horses is one of the ways it hopes to break through the barriers that have blocked development of an AIDS vaccine.
With a $19.4 million grant, Stamatatos is orchestrating a five-year study of nearly 200 virus proteins, searching for something that will trigger production of antibodies to neutralize the cunning microbe. That's how most vaccines work, but HIV is so changeable no one has figured out how to stimulate immunity against its many forms.
A native of Greece educated in France and Canada, Stamatatos is as cosmopolitan as the Gates Foundation's mind-set. The team he assembled to tackle the antibody conundrum stretches from New Orleans to Pasadena and includes scientists who had never studied AIDS before.
"I wanted to bring in new blood so we could see the problem in a different way," Stamatatos said.
A biochemist who also happens to be a computer wizard will attempt to improve on nature by designing proteins to maximize antibody production. Crystallography experts will help identify potential vaccine targets on the virus itself.
Working across so many fields has been fun, Stamatatos said, but the foundation has made it clear it wants results — not just interesting science.
"They basically said: 'We want a vaccine,' " he said. "They're not going to keep funding something that's not working."
— Sandi Doughton
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