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Release: March 15, 2000

UI researcher wins $1.18 million grant from the National Institutes of Health

IOWA CITY, Iowa – A University of Iowa Health Care researcher has received a five-year, $1.18 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to look at how HIV spreads.

C. Martin Stoltzfus, Ph.D., UI professor of microbiology, is investigating the "Regulation of HIV-1 RNA Splicing." HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Several steps are necessary for HIV to replicate and infect cells. Splicing, the process by which some of the HIV RNA is cut into smaller RNAs in the infected cell, is one, Stoltzfus explained. Packaging, the process by which the remaining unspliced HIV RNA is packaged into virus particles that will infect other cells, is another.

"For HIV to replicate, the amounts of RNA devoted to splicing and packaging must be balanced," Stoltzfus said.

Stoltzfus and his research team want to better understand how HIV RNA replicates itself within the body. The investigators also want to explore whether interfering with the replication process can upset the balance and thwart the spread of the virus.

Stoltzfus' lab previously showed that several specific regions of HIV RNA bind to so-called "factors" or proteins within cells infected by the virus. Once the RNA has attached itself to such a factor, splicing is inhibited.

"With the new grant, we hope to identify these factors in order to understand how they prevent splicing," Stoltzfus said. "This information possibly could be used to design novel antiviral drugs that interfere with the activity of the factors and prevent the virus from replicating efficiently in the body."

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