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U of M researcher on national team to lead project seeking to cure HIV

December 3, 2013 — 

The Canadian HIV Cure Enterprise (CanCURE), a collaboration of leading Canadian HIV/AIDS researchers, will undertake an innovative research program to find new effective approaches to cure HIV infection in humans. The project, led by Éric A. Cohen in Montréal and nine principal investigators across the country ― including the U of M’s Keith Fowke ― received $8.7 million in funding from the Canadian Initiative for HIV Cure Research, a partnership between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) and the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The investment was announced November 28, 2013, at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) by Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Rona Ambrose.

“My team and I are very proud to receive this support from CIHR,” says Cohen, CanCURE team leader and researcher at the IRCM. “We are happy to continue this extraordinary collaboration between Canadian colleagues, and I would like to congratulate the entire team.”

Keith Fowke, head, medical microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, says: “This research funding announcement is significant in that it creates a network of researchers from all across Canada united under the common goal of trying to eliminate HIV infection, a goal which would have been viewed as impossible a decade ago. Our research team at the University of Manitoba is proud to be part of this national effort.”

The University of Manitoba, the only Western Canadian university with a principal applicant represented and an international leader in HIV/AIDS research, will play an important role in this pursuit, receiving $400,000 over five years for its role in the potentially groundbreaking research.

CanCURE ultimately aims to enhance our understanding of how HIV remains latent despite antiretroviral therapy, develop new research infrastructure relevant to HIV cure research, and establish therapeutic strategies that will bring us closer to the discovery of a cure for HIV infection.

“Current HIV treatments improve the health and prolong the life of infected patients, but they fail to completely eliminate the virus,” explains Cohen, in microbiology, infectiology and immunology at the Université de Montréal. “HIV manages to hide in certain cells of the body, which represents a significant barrier to a cure. The objective of the CanCURE project is to understand this mechanism in order to eliminate the cells that harbour the virus in the presence of antiretroviral therapy and eradicate or control HIV infection.”

“We will be leading a scientific project to understand how key cells of the immune system are rendered dysfunctional in HIV infection,” Fowke explains, adding that by blocking a regulator protein on the surface of the cells, researchers hope to restore the immune system’s ability to eliminate HIV infected cells and control or even eliminate the infection.

“The goal of finding a safe and effective cure for HIV is within reach,” adds Marc Ouellette, scientific director for the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity. “Strategic and collaborative research will continue to bring us closer to this global goal and we are proud to be supporting Dr. Cohen’s new research program with our partners in the Canadian Initiative for HIV Cure Research.”

“The global quest to find strategies to better treat and cure HIV/AIDS is one step closer with this national collaborative research team,” says Dr. Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) at the University of Manitoba. “I congratulate the team members on this new funding and their innovative approach to finding a cure.”

The CanCURE project brings together an expert group of 26 basic and clinical scientists, who span 10 universities and affiliated research centres and operate in outstanding environments favouring high-quality research within their respective programs. The nine principal investigators include Petronela Ancuta from the CHUM Research Centre, Jonathan Angel from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa, Jérôme Estaquier from the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, Keith Fowke from the University of Manitoba, Andrew Mouland from the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Mario Ostrowski from the University of Toronto, Jean-Pierre Routy from McGill University Health Centre, Michel J. Tremblay from the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec and Éric A. Cohen from the IRCM.

See more information about the CanCURE initiative, HIV cure research, please refer to the IRCM’s fact sheet.

For more information contact Ilana Simon, director of communications & marketing, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba, at: 204-789.3427, or email: ilana [dot] simon [at] med [dot] umanitoba [dot] ca

Founded in 1883 as Western Canada’s first medical school, the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine has graduated more than 7,000 physicians who have become influential medical leaders, world renowned health researchers and dedicated doctors. As Manitoba’s only medical school, the U of M Faculty of Medicine has educated and trained the majority of our province’s physicians.


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


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