Dr. Ronald C. Desrosiers Receives International HIV Research Award

Ronald C. Desrosiers, Ph.D., professor of pathology and Director of Research Faculty Development at the Miller School of Medicine and an international leader in HIV research, received the David Barry DART Achievement Award at the HIV DART and Emerging Viruses conference in Los Cabos, Mexico.

A professor of microbiology and molecular genetics who spent 35 years at Harvard Medical School and its New England Primate Research Center before joining the University of Miami in 2013, Desrosiers discovered the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the closest known relative of HIV found in monkeys, and the monkey equivalent of the Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus.

He is the author of more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, and has received numerous awards and honors over his career, including 2002’s “Most Highly Cited Scientist.”

HIV DART and Emerging Viruses is a premier international gathering of leading scientists and physicians from academia, industry, government and nonprofit organizations. The conference is designed to assemble clinicians, translational researchers and basic scientists to advance knowledge of the ongoing drug development processes for HIV and emerging viruses. Desrosiers’ David Barry DART Achievement Award Lecture was titled “The Discovery of SIV and Development of Monkey Models for the Study of HIV/AIDS.”

He is particularly excited about recent developments in his Miller School research lab. “Over the last several years, an incredible array of monoclonal antibodies have been described with potent neutralizing activity against a broad range of HIV isolates,” Desrosiers said. “A major effort of my lab has now been to examine how best to harness the power of these antibodies for treatment and prevention purposes.”

The lab has focused in particular on using a gene therapy vector, AAV, to achieve long-term delivery of the antibodies experimentally in a monkey model for HIV/AIDS. AAV has become the vector of choice for replacing enzymes and proteins missing in hereditary disorders such as hemophilia. It has proven extremely safe in human trials.

The first monkey that received the AAV vector making an anti-HIV antibody is still making the antibody, detectable at high levels in the serum, three and a half years later, Desrosiers said. “Our most recent results have shown impressive suppression of viral loads in a SHIV-infected monkey to below the limit of detection for more than one year in the absence of any antiviral drug treatment — all this from a single injection of the AAV vector.

“This approach holds great promise for impacting the worldwide epidemic from both treatment and prevention perspectives,” he said. “I am eager to see the findings from my lab translated to human clinical testing.”

Desrosiers earned his undergraduate degree from Boston University in chemistry, an interest sparked by a high school chemistry teacher in his native New Hampshire. He then pursued his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Michigan State University.

After a post-doctoral fellowship in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, he joined the Harvard faculty, focusing on the molecular mechanisms of viral pathogenesis when a strange immune deficiency virus was confirmed in humans in the early 1980s.

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