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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Providence vaccine foundation to honor HIV/AIDS researchers three decades after outbreak

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

For more information, Patrick Lowney (401) 277-5408

Foundation led by director of URI vaccine lab

Providence, R.I. – June 9, 2011 – Three of the world’s elite HIV/AIDS researchers will be honored in Providence next week, nearly 30 years to the day after the world learned of cases of a new, drug-resistant disease aggressively attacking its victims.

The GAIA Vaccine Foundation will bestow its Hope is a Vaccine Award on three recipients for their critical role in fighting the disease. The ceremony will take place during its annual fundraising gala at Hotel Providence, Friday June 17 beginning at 4:30pm. The event raises funds to support research on a novel AIDS vaccine.

Awarded annually to deserving individuals working on the international, national, and local fight against HIV/AIDS, the Hope is a Vaccine Award highlights important individual efforts towards fighting AIDS and contributions to improving HIV care for persons living at the margins. GAIA hopes that the award will shed light on the hard work done by courageous advocates, scientists, and policy makers while encouraging more individuals to be engaged in the fight against the disease worldwide.

GAIA was started in 2001 by Dr. Annie De Groot, a Providence-based researcher who is also the CEO of EpiVax, Inc., a company that uses bioinformatics tools to develop safer therapeutics and new vaccines. De Groot also heads the Institute for Immunology and Informatics at the University of Rhode Island. GAIA’s mission continues to be to promote the development of a global AIDS vaccine while promoting HIV clinical trials in Providence and the West African country of Mali. Funds raised at next week’s event will also support HIV education, prevention efforts, and access to care programs in both locations.

This year’s winners are Dr. Michel Sidibe, Dr. Gail Skowron and Dr. Juliana McElrath.

Sidibe is the executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. He has been the driving force behind promoting universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support at the global level. He has called for universal access to Mother to Child Transmission Prevention by 2015. Sidibe reports the number of new HIV infections and deaths has been reduced by nearly 20 percent. He notes that fewer people are becoming infected with the virus and fewer are dying from the disease. He also says 56 countries have reported reduced HIV/AIDS numbers this year.

McElrath is a principal investigator and director of the HVTN (HIV Vaccine Trials Network) Laboratory Program and Seattle Vaccine Trials Unit. She is also senior vice president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine. McElrath built and maintains a successful international HIV vaccine laboratory program while conducting translational immunological research in humans in a multicenter setting. Her research has contributed to fundamental understanding of how T cells control HIV infection. Her current research pursues both a vaccine that will protect against HIV-1 infection and a deeper understanding of the components of immunity that contribute to control of HIV-1 disease.

Skowron is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence. Since 1990, she has been director of the HIV/AIDS Clinical Care and Clinical Trials Program and the director of the HIV Immunology Laboratory at Roger Williams Medical Center. Her clinical interests include antiretroviral therapy, pharmacokinetics and immune-based therapies. Her HIV clinical practice is a recipient of Rhode Island State Ryan White funding for HIV Primary and Specialty Care. Her laboratory focuses on natural killer cellmediated destruction of CD4 cells in HIV disease pathogenesis and designer T cells directed against HIV-infected cells.

Individual tickets for the event are $60. Any additional tickets are $40. They can be purchased at the door on the night of the event or in advance by sending a check to GAIA Vaccine Foundation, 146 Clifford Street, Providence, R.I. 02903. For more information on the fundraiser or on the GAIA Vaccine Foundation, please visit gaiavaccine.org.

Previous winners of the Hope is a Vaccine Award are:

2009: Ira Magaziner, architect of the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative
Carol Nacy, Ph.D., Sequella Foundation, tuberculosis vaccine visionary
Ed Wood and Anne Sliney, Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative
2008: Daniel Halperin, Ph.D., proponent of male circumcision and birth control for HIV/AIDS prevention.
Rick Altice, David Thomas, David Paar, David Wohl, and Joe Bick, prison HIV experts
Jesse Creel, AIDS activist
2007: Stephen Lewis, former UN Ambassador for AIDS
Judy Lieberman, M.D., Ph.D., HIV vaccine researcher
Leigh Blake, Keep a Child Alive
2006: Sonia Erlich Sachs M.D., Jeff Sachs Ph.D., Millennium Village Project
Jane Carter, M.D., tuberculosis clinician and patient advocate
3 local awardees
2005: Jose Esparza, M.D., director of the Global AIDS Vaccine Initiative at the Gates Foundation
President A. T. Toure, Mali
Habib Koite, international music artist
2004: Peggy Johnston, Ph.D., Associate Director, Division of AIDS, NIAID, NIH
Susan Cu Uvin, M.D., MTCTP advocate
Ousmane Koita, Ph.D., Malian HIV vaccine researcher
2003: Neal Nathanson, M.D., former polio vaccine pioneer and former director of the Office for AIDS Research, NIH.
David Weiner, AIDS vaccine researcher
Ken Mayer, HIV expert
DeeDee Williams, HIV vaccine trial participant