Kirby Institute researchers receive more than $800,000 to support research for an HIV cure

News | Published on 09 Dec 2019

Kirby Institute researchers at UNSW Sydney have received a grant of $841,489 for research that will use gene therapy to uncover a cure for HIV.

Yesterday, the Federal Health Minister, the Hon. Greg Hunt announced over $400 million in medical research funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The Kirby Institute study team, led by Associate Professor Stuart Turville, will use this NHMRC Ideas grant funding to investigate gene therapy methods for an HIV cure. The research is based on the idea of using the “nuts and bolts” of the HIV virus in a safe and effective way to genetically modify immune cells in various ways to enable a functional cure for HIV.

“The aim is to turn the virus against itself,” said Associate Professor Turville. “We will use the virus, but we need to reprogram it, so that it’s not only safe, but is full of genetic materials that will lead to various forms of attack against the virus.”

Associate Professor Turville has been working on gene therapy for HIV since arriving at the Kirby Institute in 2011. In collaboration with Geoff Symonds at CSL, the Kirby Institute is one of only a few centres world-wide attempting to leverage the power of gene therapy and gene editing technologies to target the virus in vivo.

“This grant is now applying the culmination of over eight years of work at the bench to design a gene delivery platform for our immune system. Using this pipeline, we aim to firstly permanently protect our immune cells from future infection. Secondly, we aim to arm our immune system to seek and destroy what remains of the HIV reservoir. Unlike existing therapies using drugs, our approach is to use gene therapy to enable a living therapeutic that will dynamically respond over time,” said Associate Professor Turville.

The Kirby Institute is also a major partner on two large-scale research initiatives that have received support in this round of NHRMC funding.

A world-first trial for a promising gonorrhoea vaccine will be led by Griffith University and the Kirby Institute. The $2.7 million Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies grant will bring together five Australian universities and three health districts and providers to test whether a meningococcal B vaccine protects against gonorrhoea in gay and bisexual men.

“This vaccine is the best chance we’ve had to control gonorrhoea,” said Professor Basil Donovan who is one of four Kirby Institute chief investigators on the trial. “It is essential for us to bring gonorrhoea under control in the coming years before resistance to antibiotics renders the condition untreatable.”

A Synergy grant of $5 million was awarded to Associate Professor James Ward at Flinders University to investigate the elimination of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in remote Aboriginal communities. Kirby Institute researchers Professors Rebecca Guy, John Kaldor and Basil Donovan are chief investigators on the study, and will bring expertise and experience in the surveillance, prevention and treatment of STIs to this important project.


Luci Bamford