Jonathan Karn, PhD, Reinberger Professor of Molecular Biology and chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and director of the Case Center for AIDS Research, has been awarded the 2016 Drexel Prize in Translational Medicine by the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. He will be presented with the award on September 14 at the school’s fourth International Symposium on Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease. Speakers and attendees from more than 30 academic and industrial organizations in the greater Philadelphia area and the northeast corridor will be attending the three-day conference.
Dr. Karn is an internationally-recognized virologist who has made highly influential contributions to the study of transcriptional control in HIV and latency.
Transcription, the fourth of seven steps in the life cycle of HIV, occurs after HIV has smuggled its own DNA into the DNA of the host cell. The genetic instructions in the HIV DNA then direct the host cell to make HIV RNA, which contains the information that the virus needs in order to replicate (multiply).
Recently, the Karn laboratory demonstrated that estrogen receptors are a critical factor in HIV transcription. Estrogen receptors are proteins – found in and on cells – that respond to signals from estrogen telling the cells to grow. His findings may point the way to new treatments that can disable these receptors, slowing or halting the spread of HIV cells in the body.
Since 2002 Dr. Karn has been working on understanding and controlling the mechanisms that regulate latency. Latency refers to the ability of HIV to hide (or “remain silent”) in certain cells in the body in spite of antiretroviral therapy – a powerful combination of medications used to slow down the speed at which HIV replicates in the body.
The latent cells – also known as cellular reservoirs – can be found in the brain, lymphoid tissue, and bone marrow, among other locations. Reactivation of these cells can lead to a return of full symptoms of HIV. Understanding these mechanisms is essential to an HIV eradication strategy.
In addition to receiving the award, Dr. Karn will deliver a presentation describing his transcription and latency work and its implications for eliminating HIV in the body.
Dr. Karn has published numerous articles in peer-review journals and served as a member of numerous National Institutes of Health and professional advisory councils and study sections. From 1987 to 1998 he played a leading role in establishing and coordinating the UK’s research effort into AIDS as a member of the MRC AIDS Directed Program Steering Committee. Dr. Karn has been executive editor and served on the editorial boards of several professional journals. He was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology in 2011.
He received his PhD in cell biology from the Rockefeller University and BS in biology from Yale University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, England.
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