The National Institutes of Health has renewed for five years – and $18.1 million – the funding for the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research (Harvard CFAR).

Harvard is one of only 20 NIH CFAR sites in the U.S. and first received the designation in 2004.

The award, under the umbrella of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH), will fund clinical and basic science research conducted at Harvard University and its affiliated hospitals.

The new grant will help facilitate the continued growth and integration of AIDS research at Harvard in six core areas: international, retroviral therapeutics, vaccine, pathogenesis, clinical epidemiology and outcomes, and behavioral and social sciences.

The successful renewal of this grant is the result of the efforts of Bruce Walker, MD, Harvard CFAR Director and Max Essex, DVM, PhD, Associate Director of the Harvard CFAR. Walker is also Director of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Essex is the Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at the HSPH and Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative and the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Initiative Partnership. Their continued leadership has fostered increased collaboration among HIV/AIDS researchers at the Medical School, the School of Public Health, as well as Harvard’s affiliated hospitals.

Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman, hailed the NIH decision to renew CFAR funding, “we are delighted about this award. Few programs at Harvard have had a greater impact on inter-school, cross-disciplinary research and training. Professors Walker and Essex have created an environment of unprecedented collaboration among faculty at the University and its affiliated hospitals.”

Bruce Walker went further: “we are ecstatic about this grant renewal and what we will be able to accomplish because of it. The Harvard CFAR has played a unifying role at Harvard, facilitating unprecedented synergies across all schools in fighting one of the biggest health challenges of our time. HIV/AIDS is a problem that needs a coordinated effort involving diverse disciplines like medicine, law, public health, education, business, divinity, engineering and social sciences, and CFAR is accomplishing this, while at the same time providing outreach that directly benefits persons suffering from HIV/AIDS.”

The Harvard CFAR will continue to draw on the vast research strengths of the Greater Boston region to tackle a disease that impacts millions of people around the world. “This Center has had an unprecedented transforming effect on the quality, breadth and impact of AIDS research efforts in Boston and around the world, and is widely viewed as a model for collaborative inter-institutional interactions,” said Essex.

The Harvard CFAR is intended to consolidate and expand existing collaborations among the diverse and highly successful Harvard University-affiliated HIV/AIDS researchers, promote new interactions and innovative research initiatives capable of more effectively addressing key HIV/AIDS research questions and attract and support the next generation of young scientists into HIV-1 research.

Harvard and its affiliated institutions continue to generate cutting edge research concerning HIV/AIDS and related fields. Activities among 144 NIH-funded Harvard University investigators doing HIV/AIDS related research include studies of molecular virology, pathogenesis, host immune responses, epidemiology, treatment, vaccines and prevention, to which Harvard investigators have made consistent, high-impact contributions. 

The integration of the CFAR at HIGH provides a platform through which faculty can access core resources and expand interdisciplinary dialogue. “We see the Harvard CFAR as a catalyst that brings faculty together not only around specific AIDS-related research, but also associated issues such as poverty, war and conflict, ethics, and technology innovation,” said Tom La Salvia, Executive Director of HIGH. “The recent Harvard CFAR Symposium is an excellent example of cross-disciplinary research and training the CFAR program can foster at the University,” he said.

Harvard CFAR projects are already having an immense impact in some regions of the world that are hardest hit and least able to cope with AIDS, including Botswana, Tanzania, India and the KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa as well as throughout the City of Boston, bringing awareness, knowledge, and resources in order to help processes work best within local communities. Since its inception CFAR has funded risk reduction and prevention services to some of the hardest hit populations in the US. This work will continue under the new grant.

The mission of the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research is to expand, promote, and facilitate collaborative, multidisciplinary activities in AIDS research among CFAR members and their colleagues across the University, in order to help end the pandemic.