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U. professor gets grant for AIDS study

A biochemist at the University of Utah has won a major grant to study a promising new strategy against AIDS.

Wesley I. Sundquist, professor of biochemistry at the U. School of Chemistry, was awarded $90,000 by the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The grant was one of 13 announced recently by the group, with the total amounting to $1,168,431.

The foundation, co-founded by the actress Elizabeth Taylor, bills itself as America's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to funding the fight against AIDS.

"It's very important," said Deborah Hernan, the foundation's vice president for communications, New York City, speaking of Sundquist's work. "With the treatment failure that's happening out there, this area of research provides new hope for better treatment."

Asked how Sundquist was chosen as one of the grant recipients, she said, "Our grant review process is a very stringent process."

After a scientist applies for a grant, an advisory committee evaluates the idea, Hernan added. "The proposal from Utah was a promising area of research."

According to the U. and the foundation, the research is aimed at identifying potential targets that might be attacked by new drugs. The targets are in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS) and in infected cells.

The goal of much of the research sponsored by the new grants is to find better ways to protect cells from HIV infection. That could slow the progress of the disease in people who already have it.

Sundquist's research project searches for ways to prevent two proteins from joining in part of an infected cell called the capsid. The joining is essential for the cell to infect a new healthy cell.

He also wants to identify molecules that might prevent RNA, genetic material, from transferring into new virus particles that are infectious, says a news release issued by the U.

It adds that Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, the foundation's senior scientific consultant, said that even among people who do well on the multi-drug treatment for AIDS, "roughly half begin to experience treatment failure after a year or two, often because HIV has developed resistance to the drugs used to inhibit its growth."

Because of this, some strains of AIDS are developing resistance to drugs, says the U. As many as 14 percent of Americans who are newly infected with HIV have strains that already have some resistance to the new treatments. That adds urgency to the search for new treatments.

Sundquist was traveling when the U. made the announcement of the award, and unable to return e-mail and telephone requests for comments.