• Today, June 30, marks the celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research, promoted by the “la Caixa” Foundation and the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalonia. This institutional event has been graced by the presence of the general director of the “la Caixa” Foundation, Jaume Lanaspa; the general director of Public Health of the Generalitat, Antoni Plasencia; the honorary president of “la Caixa” and vicepresident of the IrsiCaixa Foundation, Josep Vilarasau, and the director of IrsiCaixa, Bonaventura Clotet.
• The celebration has also included a presentation by Dr. Bruce Walker, Director of the Ragon Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard, created thanks to a private donation of 100 million dollars to develop an AIDS vaccine. Walker is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
• IrsiCaixa has been consolidated in these past 15 years as an international reference centre in AIDS research, standing out for its elevated volume of prestigious scientific production, its participation in large impact studies on the efficacy of new drugs and the contributions to clinical reports on the advances in treatment which are useful for physicians worldwide.
Today, June 30 2010, the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research, promoted by the “la Caixa” Foundation and the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalonia, is celebrating its 15th anniversary with an institutional event held at the CosmoCaixa of Barcelona. This event has been graced by the presence of the general director of the “la Caixa” Foundation, Jaume Lanaspa; the general director of Public Health of the Generalitat, Antoni Plasencia; the honorary president of “la Caixa” and vicepresident of the IrsiCaixa Foundation, Josep Vilarasau, and the director of IrsiCaixa, Bonaventura Clotet.
The celebration has also been graced by the presence of Bruce Walker, Director of the Ragon Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard, created thanks to a private donation of 100 million dollars from Terry and Susan Ragon to develop an AIDS vaccine. Walker is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and in celebration of the 15th anniversary of IrsiCaixa, has conducted a presentation titled “Eradication and vaccine, the two goals in HIV research”.
IrsiCaixa, an international reference centre
Since its creation in 1995, IrsiCaixa has been solidified as an international reference centre in AIDS research. Over the course of these 15 years, it has been characterized by high scientific production, with over 600 publications with one of the highest impact factors in this field. Many of these publications have been carried out in collaboration with internationally renowned centres such as Harvard University in Boston, the Institut Pasteur of Paris or the Royal Free Hospital of London.
IrsiCaixa has also participated in large international studies to improve the treatment strategies of HIV/AIDS, analysing the efficacy of a large number of currently available drugs in order to reduce the development of new resistances.
The contributions of the director of IrsiCaixa, Bonaventura Clotet, to guidelines on drug resistance used by doctors worlwide, which update the information on the latest advances in treatment, should also be highlighted.
At the same time, IrsiCaixa also researches other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and the human papilloma virus, and also conducts work on a research line focused on retroviruses associated with chronic fatigue and prostate cancer.
15 years making great strides in AIDS eradication
Studies that have subsequently significantly contributed to the advance in AIDS eradication stand out amongst the publications of the more than 50 researchers at IrsiCaixa:
• October 2008 (published in the journal Blood)
An important entry route used by HIV to infect immune system cells is identified.
• December 2008 (published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases)
Aggressive HIV strains that cause the most sudden and severe AIDS cases that had been described up until then are characterized and the reasons why these cases occur are explained.
• February 2009 (published in the journal Nature)
The manner in which HIV escapes the immune system and mutates differently according to the predominat genetics in each region of the world is identified. The study provides information on the immense variability of the virus circulating in different regions of the world, and suggests that it will possibly be necessary to develop region-specific vaccines for different parts of the world.
• March 2009 (published in the journal Nature)
New possibe targets for the development of an HIV vaccine are identified. Specifically, the study demonstrates that HIV-infected cells generate defective proteins that represent possible novel therapeutic targets, given that in the laboratory they produce an immune response that is able to block the infection cycle.
• March 2010 (published in the journal Nature Medicine)
Provides an explanation as to why antiretroviral treatment cannot permanently cure the infection. The presence of minimal virus quantities that continue to infect new cells in HIV-positive patients receiving medication is demonstrated. The study explains why, when treatments are interrupted, the level of virus in blood always rapidly increases, preventing the definitive cure of the infection.
Current research strategies geared towards eradication
At present, IrsiCaixa is developing different strategies to advance towards HIV eradication:
• In coordination with the Clinical Hospital of Barcelona, IrsiCaixa co-directs the HIVACAT project for research and development of an HIV vaccine, placing our country on the forefront of research in this field. The project is developed by means of an unprecedented public-private consortium, with the collaboration of Esteve and with the support of the “la Caixa” Foundation, the Departments of Health and Innovation, Universities and Enterprise of the Generalitat de Catalonia and the Clinic Foundation.
• Five studies are being conducted to analyse different ways of intensifying antiretroviral treatment so that it becomes more effective.
• Steps are being made towards a more accurate diagnosis capable of detecting the presence of all drug-resistant HIV strains in each patient. In order to advance in this research field, IrsiCaixa has recently acquired an ultrasensitive sequencing instrument, 454, which is the first massive sequencing platform in Spain wholly dedicated to the analysis of HIV strains. This acquisition has been possible thank to the collaboration with Roche’s Diagnostics Division.