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University of Michigan earns $21 million grant to study HIV virus behavior

Federal grant establishes the Center for HIV RNA Studies where researchers hope to find innovative treatment methods for AIDS, other diseases


A new $21-million grant will help researchers at the University of Michigan Health System better understand the HIV virus on a molecular level, potentially paving the way for new treatment approaches to AIDS and other diseases.

The National Institutes of Health grant, which will be distributed during a five-year period, establishes the Center for HIV RNA Studies, or CRNA.

Alice Telesnitsky, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and immunology at the U-M Medical School, will head the CRNA and says the grant brings together researchers in a variety of disciplines to tackle the sometimes tricky HIV-1 RNA molecule, which plays an essential role in a virus’ ability to reproduce itself.

“Viruses are made up of proteins and RNA, and most research focuses on the proteins,” she says. “Because RNA is a simple molecule, it can sometimes appear nondescript when we look at it. This grant will unite a team of people who will look at RNA on different scales, assessing its structure, movement and replication.”

Telesnitsky says a better understanding of RNA’s biological processes could ultimately lead to innovative treatments for AIDS and other human diseases.

Researchers from Telesnitsky’s lab at U-M, as well as scientists from 13 other institutions across the country, will use the NIH grant to take a multidisciplinary approach to the research.

Telesnitsky says the team includes world leaders in fields such as structural biology, chemistry, cell and computation biology, molecular biology and virology.

Funding for the grant comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the NIH’s National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“This is an absolutely outstanding group of structural biologists and virologists focused on an understudied yet critical component of the HIV virion—the genomic RNA,” said Michael Sakalian, Ph.D., the NIGMS official who oversees the grant for the specialized center.

“Their efforts to elucidate the structural and functional roles of RNA in the viral life cycle will advance our fundamental understanding of host-virus interactions as well as identify potential new targets for therapeutic intervention.”


For more information about the CRNA, please visit

The CRNA is supported by NIH grant 1P50GM103297.

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