AIDS vaccines expert to address unwarranted pessimism in UGA lecture

AIDS vaccines expert to address unwarranted pessimism in UGA lecture

Athens, Ga. – There’s been plenty of bad news about AIDS vaccines since the U.S. government shut down a major clinical trial last fall. More recently, several prominent scientists have publicly doubted whether a vaccine that protects healthy people against HIV will ever be invented. Physician and vaccine researcher Anne De Groot will explain why this pessimism is unwarranted when she speaks at the University of Georgia on Tuesday, April 15, delivering the final lecture in the 2008 “Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard” series.

“Why did the National Institutes of Health and the AIDS vaccine community believe that the vaccines tested to date would have succeeded?” asked De Groot, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Brown University Medical School. “The most recent failures were completely expected by those who had followed the preclinical studies and who knew HIV vaccine science.”

There are new and better ways to design vaccines, De Groot will argue in a lecture titled “HIV Vaccines: Time for a New Vision.” The vaccines that failed in clinical trials did not induce protective responses that warded off a virus that mutates non-stop. A better approach could involve using state-of-the-art informatics tools to create a vaccine versatile enough to fight off the many strains of HIV found around the world. De Groot has been working on new concepts in HIV and TB vaccines since she held a immunoinformatics fellowship at NIH nearly two decades ago.

Educated at Pritzer School of Medicine at the University of Chicago and board certified in internal medicine and infectious disease, De Groot has been on the Brown faculty since 1992. In 1998, she licensed a technology created in her laboratory and founded EpiVax, Inc., an immunoinformatics company, and a global health foundation called the GAIA Vaccine Foundation. See www.GAIAvaccine.org for more information about the Foundation’s progress toward creating an HIV vaccine for the world.

De Groot currently devotes most of her time to EpiVax, where she directs the company’s scientific efforts, business strategy and marketing. She also teaches medical students and practices medicine as an adjunct associate professor at Brown. She has published nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles and has been the principal investigator on more than two dozen NIH-funded research projects. In the current year, she received more than $2 million in government and foundation funding and published more than 16 academic papers.

As a physician, De Groot has worked to improve access to medical care in the U.S. and abroad. Every year she takes a group of students to Mali, where she treats patients at a rural HIV/AIDS clinic. Back in the U.S. she practices medicine at free clinics in Rhode Island and cares for incarcerated women. Her scientific and humanitarian accomplishments have garnered numerous state, regional and national awards including being named one of the “Best and the Brightest” in Science and Technology by Esquire magazine and, in May 2006, being recognized as “Rhode Island Woman Physician of the Year” for her work on AIDS in Africa.

“Anne De Groot is a passionate advocate for social justice and an exceptional communicator, as well as an outstanding physician and vaccine scientist,” said Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “This is her first visit to Athens and UGA, and Dan Colley and I are delighted to bring her here.”

This is the final lecture in the 2008 series organized by Thomas and Colley. All lectures take place in the UGA Chapel and are followed by a reception next door at Demosthenian Hall. For additional information, see www.grady.uga.edu/knighthealth