Penn Medicine researcher receives early career honor from Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Award will support research on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms of HIV persistence

PHILADELPHIA — Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an assistant professor of Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has received the Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease (PATH) award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, an independent foundation based in Research Triangle Park, NC dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences. Dr. Vahedi is one of 9 recipients selected from 157 nominees nationwide.

Under the grant, Dr. Vahedi will work to uncover how lentiviruses change the linear and three-dimensional organization of the host genome, findings which could pave the way to understand how HIV persistence occurs.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically reduced morbidity and mortality for people living with HIV by effectively suppressing viral replication to undetectable levels in plasma. However, ART does not eradicate HIV. The major obstacle to cure HIV is that the virus establishes stable reservoirs of persistently-infected cells. Exactly how HIV can evade immune surveillance remains poorly understood.

Under this grant, Dr. Vahedi and her laboratory will seek to devise novel epigenetic technologies to decipher how lentiviruses such as HIV hijack the 3D genome architecture of host cells.

“We are thrilled that our laboratory is supported by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund,” Dr. Vahedi said. “Despite major progress in epigenomic technologies, these techniques are underutilized in studying host-pathogen interactions and particularly the associations of lentiviruses and the host chromatin remain largely understudied. Our proposed methods and their application to cells from HIV-1 patients will pave the way to define a connection between integration and silencing of the viral genome occurring during HIV-1 latency.”

PATH is a highly competitive award program that provides $500,000 over a period of five years. The awards are intended to give recipients the freedom and flexibility to pursue new avenues of inquiry, stimulating higher risk research projects that hold potential for significantly advancing understanding of how infectious diseases work and how health is maintained.

Dr. Vahedi received her B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran and her Ph.D. degree from Texas A&M University. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, before joining Penn in 2015. She is also a member of the Institute for Immunology and the Epigenetics Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

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