Eron Named Vice Chair of Largest NIH HIV Research Network

Joe Eron, MD, is the new vice chair of the ACTG Network.

Joe Eron, MD, is the new vice chair of the ACTG Network.

UNC Professor of Medicine Joseph Eron, MD, has been elected vice chair of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). Established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1987, the ACTG is the largest network of research sites in the world dedicated to finding a cure for HIV and the virus’s opportunistic infections.

“The ACTG is an incredible scientific group that has been a leader in HIV clinical and translational research for 30 years,” said Eron. “I am honored, thrilled and humbled to serve as the vice chair of the group and I will do my best to continue moving the research forward with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of people living with HIV.”

With the ACTG for 25 years, Eron previously chaired the network’s HIV Reservoirs and Viral Eradication Transformative Science Group. He has worked extensively in the area of HIV drug development and led or participated in original studies of many antiretroviral therapies. His first clinical trial in the 1990s demonstrated the life-saving benefits of combination antiretroviral therapy and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Since then, Eron has authored more than 300 publications in peer-reviewed journals focusing on antiretroviral therapy, resistance, pharmacology, transmission, HIV persistence and disruption of latency.

At UNC, he treats people living with HIV at the Infectious Diseases Clinic in the N.C. Memorial Hospital. He serves as vice chief for the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) Clinical Core.

Eron has received many accolades throughout his career. He received UNC’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005. He was awarded the HIV Medicine Association’s HIV Clinical Educator Award in 2013. In 2016, the North Carolina Community AIDS Fund presented Eron with its Red Ribbon Award for Outstanding Achievement, marking the 20th anniversary of his discovery of combination therapy for the treatment of HIV.

NIH Renews UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellows Program

Benjamin Chi, MD, MSc, is the program's principal investigator and consortium program director.

Benjamin Chi, MD, MSc, is the program’s principal investigator and consortium program director.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has renewed funding for the UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellows Program. This five-year grant (2017-2022) supports mentored training at 16 affiliated sites in low- and middle-income countries. All are affiliated with at least one of the UJMT consortium’s four U.S. institutions: UNC-Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Tulane University.

The coordinating center is based at the UNC Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases and directed Benjamin Chi, MD, MSc, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC. Other institutional directors include Yuka Manabe, MD, (Johns Hopkins University); Kofi Kondwani, PhD, MS, (Morehouse School of Medicine); and Pierre Buekens, MD, (Tulane University).

The fellowship has a successful track record in training the next generation of global health researchers, both from the United States and abroad. Over its first five years, the program supported 132 doctoral and postdoctoral trainees. Over half of the postdoctoral fellows have taken academic positions after completing the program. Many have successfully competed for research funding, including from the NIH, to become independently funded investigators.

Watch this video of a former fellow sharing how the training prepared her for a career in global health research.

The program will receive approximately $1 million from the NIH to support 18 trainees in the 2017-2018 academic year. Of these, nine are doctoral students and nine are postdoctoral fellows; five are foreign nationals working at one of the consortium’s affiliated sites.

Yukari Manabe, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Kofi Kondwani, of Morehouse School of Medicine, Dr. Pierre Buekens of Tulane University

Yukari Manabe, MD, MS; Kofi Kondwani, PhD, MS; and Pierre Buekens, MD, direct sites at Johns Hopkins, Morehouse and Tulane respectively.

Awardees from the UNC include: Matthew Painschab, MD (Malawi) Chifundo Zimba, PhD (Malawi), Adria Spinelli, PhD candidate (Peru), Austin Oberlin, MD candidate (South Africa), Rebecca Berhanu, MD (South Africa), Amy Huber, PhD (South Africa), and Katelyn Rittenhouse, MD candidate (Zambia).

View all trainees and sites.

Trainees receive stipend as well as travel and research funding as part of their 12-month appointment, where they conduct research at an established international site. They are mentored by experts across a wide range of scientific areas and disciplines, including HIV/AIDS, non-communicable diseases, emerging infections, cancers, mental health, neurologic disorders, and women’s health.

Funding in 2017-2018 will come from different instituted/centers within the NIH, including the Fogarty International Center; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; the National Institute of Nursing research, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

More information about the program can be found at http://globalhealth.unc.edu/ujmt-fogarty-global-health-fellowship/. The application deadline for the 2018-2019 class is Nov. 1, 2017.

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Researchers Identify How Class of Drugs Blocks Hepatitis C Virus Replication

David McGivern, PhD

David McGivern, PhD

Globally, an estimated 71 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV). Over decades of infection, chronic HCV infection results in progressive damage to the liver and an increased risk for end stage liver disease and liver cancer, making the virus the leading cause of liver-related deaths in the United States today.

While effective combination therapies have recently been developed, HCV can evolve to become resistant to these antiviral drugs, potentially resulting in treatment failures. Resistance is particularly important for one class of medications used in treatment, for which the mechanism by which it stops growth of the virus is poorly understood. For the first time, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have identified how the class of antiviral drugs known as NS5A inhibitors interacts with the virus, and their findings show a difference between strains of HCV. These results were published in PLOS Pathogens.

“When HCV infects a liver cell, it establishes replication complexes (RCs) within the cell,” said David McGivern, Ph.D., lead-author and an associate professor in the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases. “These may be thought of as factories that replicate the virus genetic material. We wanted to understand how long these factories persist in an infected cell after treatment with an NS5A inhibitor.”

The research team has shown previously NS5A inhibitors block the formation of new RCs, but do not affect existing RCs, which are ultimately lost from the cell during treatment. The team used NS5A inhibitors to estimate the half-life of the existing RCs and found a difference in the speed of decline depending upon the strain of HCV.

“The majority of people who undergo antiviral treatment clear their HCV infection,” said McGivern. “But about 5 percent of people experience treatment failure, often associated with drug resistance. Our findings have potentially important implications for this group of people. Did the treatment fail because replication complexes turned over more slowly? Do some strains of HCV need longer treatment? A better understanding of these issues may lead to more effective therapies active against a broader range of viruses.”

The UNC team collaborated with researchers at North Carolina State University, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Istituto Nazionale di Genetica Molecolare in Italy. This study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health.

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