May 11, 2011 – (BRONX, NY) – Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., and Ekaterina Dadachova, Ph.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have been named winners of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D. (left),
Ekaterina Dadachova, Ph.D. (right)Their project, “Radioimmunotherapy in patients on anti-retroviral therapy for HIV cure,” involves using radioimmunotherapy (in which radioactive isotopes are attached to antibodies) to treat HIV/AIDS. Here the antibody will target a specific protein on the surface of cells infected with HIV so that radiation emitted by its attached isotope will destroy the cells.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. Drs. Casadevall and Dadachova’s project is one of more than 85 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 6 grants announced April 28 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Casadevall is the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Chair in Microbiology and Immunology and professor and chair of the department. Dr. Dadachova is the Sylvia and Robert S. Olnick Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research and associate professor of nuclear medicine and of microbiology & immunology.
After an antibody latches onto a protein on the surface of a T cell infected with HIV, the radioactive isotope attached to the antibody emits radiation that destroys the infected cell. “GCE winners are expanding the pipeline of ideas for serious global health and development challenges where creative thinking is most urgently needed. These grants are meant to spur on new discoveries that could ultimately save millions of lives,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Drs. Casadevall and Dadachova’s winning project is based on their November 2006 paper in PLoS Medicine that showed radioimmunotherapy could successfully target and destroy human immune cells infected with HIV. The impact of this discovery could be significant – the World Health Organization estimates that there are over 33 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. The team uses a radionuclide supplied by their collaborators at the Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU), Karlsruhe, Germany.
This project is just one of the many successful investigations the two Einstein scientists have undertaken during their 10-year collaboration. Other promising efforts include using radioimmonotherapy to treat incurable metastatic melanoma (their technology was licensed by Pain Therapeutics, Inc. and is now in clinical trials) and coating nanoparticles with melanin pigment to protect bone marrow from the damaging effects of radiation.