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Desaire rewarded for work with HIV

Chemistry professor wins $25,000 research award for new faculty

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Heather Desaire, assistant professor of chemistry, has won the American Society for Mass Spectrometry's research award for new faculty for her work on how HIV hides from the human immune system. She will be presented with the $25,000 unrestricted research award in May.

Desaire's research project, "Glycoprotein Engineering for Vaccine Development," studies molecules of HIV. The molecules are glycoproteins, and they resemble spikes. The spikes are the first part of the virus to interact with human cells.

ASMS online
Heather Desaire's project "Glycoprotein Engineering for Vaccine Development" received a research assistance award from the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. More information about the organization is available online at www.asms.org.

One of the leading strategies in developing potential HIV vaccines is to give people the glycoprotein spikes, which are a nontoxic part of the virus. Once people develop immunity to this molecule, they will, in theory, be immune to HIV. One of the problems is the spikes are part proteins and part carbohydrates and researchers are currently unable to control the carbohydrates that are present on the synthetic forms of the spikes, which are grown in hamster cells.

Desaire and her research group are working to show the carbohydrates in HIV molecules are different from those grown in hamster cells. They are developing methods to study what the carbohydrates are and what kinds of carbohydrates are in potential vaccines.

The award is based on the second step of Desaire's research. When her group knows what the carbohydrates in the virus are, they could potentially produce them in a vaccine that would more closely resemble the spikes on the virus, thereby making a vaccine more effective.

Desaire, who has been at KU for four years, received a grant from the National Institutes of Health last August to study the carbohydrates of HIV molecules, which helped fund the initial stages of the research.

"We've been picking up the pace on the first stage since we got the funding," she said.