Dr. Fletcher's research team shares in a $12 million NIH grant

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College of Pharmacy Dean Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., second from right, with his research team. With Dr. Fletcher are, from left, John Weinhold, Brian Robbins, Ph.D., Sarah Nelson and Gautam Baheti.
Since HIV/AIDS first came into the public eye in the 1980s, powerful drugs have been created that keep virus levels manageable, often allowing those with the disease to live relatively normal lives.

But these drugs still haven't been able to completely stop the replication of the virus in those with HIV/AIDS. Researchers theorize that the virus hides and replicates in safe spots, or reservoirs, in the human body where the drugs can't reach.

Discovering ways to stop this replication is the aim of a five-year, $12 million National Institutes of Health program project grant that was awarded to a three-institution collaboration that includes the laboratory of College of Pharmacy Dean Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D.

"We don't exactly know why the disease is able to replicate but one good lead we have developed suggests that we're not getting the drugs to every spot we need to in the body," Dr. Fletcher said.

Dr. Fletcher and his team in the UNMC Antiviral Pharmacology Laboratory are joined by teams from the University of Minnesota and the University of Massachussetts in investigating why the virus still replicates despite the presence of the drugs.

The UNMC team will investigate pharmacologic aspects of the issue. A team from Minnesota will examine the problem from the immunologic angle with techniques to localize the virus in tissues and cells. The Massachusetts team will explore virologic aspects of the issue.

"UNMC's having a college leader who simultaneously is a well-funded researcher is a definite plus for the entire research program."

Tom Rosenquist, Ph.D.

From a pharmacology angle, Dr. Fletcher and his team will explore how the drugs get into reservoir sites and characteristics associated with good and poor penetration so that they can develop strategies to improve drug availability into areas of the body they currently can't access.

Dr. Fletcher's research career has focused on trying to treat viral infections in immunocompromised patients. Much of his early research work was done at the University of Minnesota, where he first received federal funding in 1993. He brought his lab with him when he went to the University of Colorado and moved it again last year when he came to UNMC.

The UNMC lab is directed by Brian Robbins, Ph.D., who Dr. Fletcher recruited last year from St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

"Their having merited this large-scale research grant confirms the ability of Dr. Fletcher and his team to compete successfully at the highest levels," said Tom Rosenquist, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research. "During this time of restricted funding, only the very best researchers get this kind of recognition.

"UNMC's having a college leader who simultaneously is a well-funded researcher is a definite plus for the entire research program."


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