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Researchers Awarded Grants To Tackle Complications Of HIV And Stem Cell Therapy For Brain Repair

New funding for RFU researchers will help revolutionize therapeutic approaches for HIV-related cancers and for brain repair.

Neelam Sharma-Walia, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and investigator in the Center for Cancer Cell Biology, Immunology and Infection, has been awarded a two-year, $401,115 grant from the National Cancer Institute to investigate treatments for Kaposi Sarcoma (KS)-Associated Herpes Virus (KSHV). 

“KSHV, a human oncogenic herpesvirus, is the underlying cause of KS tumor (lesions) and a rare B cell malignancy called primary effusion lymphoma (PEL),” Dr. Sharma-Walia said. “KS is the most common vascular malignancy causing high morbidity and mortality in HIV-infected patients.”

Her study, “Anti-nucleolin Aptamer AS1411: Applications in Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpes Virus (KSHV) Biology,” aims to transform current therapeutic approaches to treat KS and PEL. Knowledge obtained from the study can be tested and applied to cancers caused by other human tumor viruses.

Daniel Peterson, PhD, professor of neuroscience and director of RFU’s Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, has been awarded a one-year, $90,000 grant from the regional Walder Foundation to investigate how non-neuronal glial cells can be reprogrammed to replace lost neurons. The project represents a collaboration with Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Dr. Ali Cinar, professor of chemical engineering, who received a similar Walder grant and will contribute expertise in artificial intelligence and engineering to optimize glial cell progenitor culture processes.

Dr. Peterson’s project will culture human skin cells and use gene therapy to reprogram them into human glial progenitor cells that, once generated, can target cells in the human brain and convert them to new neurons to ultimately repair the brain.

“Recent progress in understanding the biology of stem/progenitor cells in these tissues suggests that stem cells could be a potential source of cells for replacing lost neurons or heart muscle,” Dr. Peterson said.

RFU Executive Vice President for Research Ronald Kaplan, PhD, commended both studies, stating: “These translational research efforts are key to discovering new therapies for cancer and brain diseases and are core to our research mission.”

The Walder Foundation champions Chicago and invests in science innovation. Learn more at

Posted March 3, 2023
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