UNSW Sydney and British Researchers have secured over AUD 4.6 million dollars (£2.5 million) of competitive funding from the Wellcome Trust, over five years, to study how the pandemic human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-1, evades host defences.
This is the first time funding from the UK-based Wellcome Trust has been awarded to UNSW Sydney researchers.
Associate Professor Till Böcking and Dr David Jacques from UNSW Medicine’s Single Molecule Science were part of the successful bid for this grant led by Professor Greg Towers of University College London (UCL) in the UK. The interdisciplinary team – also including Dr Leo James of Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Professor David Selwood of UCL in the UK – collectively bring together a breadth of expertise including HIV biology, innate immunity, structural biology, molecular biology, single-molecule techniques, and chemical biology.
The proposed research will focus on the molecular arms race between human hosts and HIV-1, specifically, how the host interacts with the HIV-1 capsid –a protein shell that encapsulates and protects the virus from the innate immune system.
“UNSW’s recent commitment to structural biology, exemplified by the new cryo-electron microscope facility, was a key factor in securing this funding,” says Dr Jacques.
“With this world-class infrastructure, we are now globally competitive in this field and an attractive partner for international collaborators.”
This new funding for the Australian-British HIV-1 research cooperative will be in addition to the $606,000 NHMRC Project Grant led by Dr Jacques announced last year.
Capitalising on their collective expertise, the team have already discovered that HIV-1 co-opts a small molecule (IP6) produced by the host to bolster the protective capsid. This discovery, and the single-molecule imaging strategy developed to study the notoriously unstable HIV-1 capsid, was published in two papers last year in the journal eLIFE.
“It will enable the collaboration between the different teams to build on work we’ve already begun, and take it to the next level,” says Associate Professor Böcking who leads the Australian arm of the Wellcome Trust grant due to begin in 2019.
“This is truly collaborative research. Our experimental approaches are complimentary, and we apply them to the same goals, so that we have a real chance to make progress in this area.”