Finding rare infected cells in people on HIV treatment using a radioactive label followed by an MRI is one of eight projects underway thanks to the Melbourne HIV Cure Consortium (MHCC).
Dr James McMahon, Head of The Alfred’s Department of Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit, received a $96,000 grant to expand his clinical trial.
“We have been able to link radioactive copper to an anti-HIV antibody that can latch on to an infected cell. We then infuse a low-dose of this radioactive copper and antibody, and do a scan to detect the amount and location of the copper, and therefore identify where HIV is hiding on treatment,” explains Dr McMahon.
“This funding will extend this project by doing the infusion at the same time as giving a drug that can wake up the virus, making it more visible. This could reveal further sites in the body where HIV resides and also where in the body this latency-reversing drug is having an effect.”
In 2017, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awarded $1.2 million to the Doherty Institute to establish the MHCC, which brings together experts in virology, immunology, drug development, neuroscience and social sciences from across the city working towards a cure for HIV.
“The core proposal was to support clinical research so we could fund big clinical trials, but we also have a small program to seed grants for young investigators and a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to train and educate a group of advocates to know a lot about cure,” says Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute and an infectious diseases physician and basic scientist.
“That’s been very successful with really good engagement from the community.”
The mission of the CAB is to integrate community perspectives into HIV cure research to foster meaningful advances in the treatment of people living with HIV. Members include Craig Burnett; Chad Hughes, President at Thorne Harbour Health and the Deputy Program Director for Disease Elimination and Co-Head for HIV Elimination at the Burnet Institute; Daniel Santos da Silva; Heather M, Peer Engagement Coordinator at Positive Women Victoria; Bev Greet, Co-Founder of Positive Women Victoria; and Adam Ehm, President of Living Positive Victoria.
Awarding the first eight grants at the end of 2018 was the first job for the leadership team of the MHCC, together with the CAB.
“The calibre of grant applications was incredible and I’m interested in seeing the projects come to fruition,” says MHCC Community Advisory Board Chair, Craig Burnett.
“As a community member living with HIV, I’m really proud to see this world-leading research coming out of my hometown of Melbourne.”