HIV Research at the WNPRC

Dr. David Evans, left, checks the growth of natural killer cells with Mikey Grunst, research specialist, at the UW–Madison and WNPRC AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory. (J. Lenon photo)
Dr. David Evans, left, checks the growth of natural killer cells with Mikey Grunst, research specialist, at the UW–Madison and WNPRC AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory. (J. Lenon photo)

Researchers at the AIDS Vaccine Research Lab (AVRL) have helped advance life-saving medications for people with HIV. They’ve discovered ways to prevent HIV transmission from mother to newborn. They’ve contributed to decades of basic research that has advanced HIV vaccines into clinical trials.

In 2021, our HIV researchers were involved in studies on advancing vaccine development, finding ways to clear infected cells to slow disease progression, and developing clinical antibody-based treatments.

In this news clip, The WNPRC’s Dave O’Connor and Shelby O’Connor talk about HIV 40 years after the first clinically reported cases of AIDS.

Following are more stories that highlight critical basic HIV research with nonhuman primates and the progress toward vaccines and other treatments:

Nov. 16, 2020: Gene-edited monkey embryos give researchers new way to study HIV cure

Nov. 8, 2020: New macaque model for exploring blood cancer, HIV treatments
(Experimental Hematology study published by WNPRC, School of Medicine and Public Health, and Carbone Cancer Center researchers at UW–Madison)

Aug. 20, 2020: Interview with HIVRp4 co-chair David O’Connor” (For Jan/Feb 2021 international HIV Research for Prevention Conference)

Dec. 1, 2019: The new era of living with AIDS

Mar. 19, 2019: New HIV treatment strategy provides long-term viral suppression (University of Miami and WNPRC preclinical study (Note: The “Miami monkey” is actually the “Madison monkey”)

Jan. 31, 2019: AIDS vaccine using engineered herpesvirus works in monkeys

Dec. 1, 2018: World AIDS Day: NPRC research improving lives

Sept. 28. 2018: New macaque model to study pathology of TB in AIDS patients


We also note in our Nov. 24, 2020 NPRC blog that the rapid pace of discovery leading to our current COVID-19 vaccine candidates resulted greatly from National Primate Research Center researchers and their collaborators applying their expertise in fighting other viruses, especially HIV/AIDS.


And finally… a little WNPRC AIDS research lab history!

David Pauza developed the Primate Center’s and UW–Madison’s HIV lab in 1991 at the main Primate Center headquarters on Capitol Court. Dr. Pauza had a $1 million, four-year grant to study the selection and spread of the rhesus monkey version of HIV, called simian immunodeficiency virus, after mucosal infection. He was also involved in clinical AIDS drug therapy trials at UW Hospital and Clinics.

As the AIDS lab grew over the next decade, it became clear that there was not enough space on campus to accommodate it. Plans were drawn for a new building containing several modern labs on Madison’s West side. The Primate Center and UW–Madison opened the AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 16, 2005. Pictured from the left, with the affiliations they held at the time, are Franziska Grieder (Director of the NIH National Center for Research Resources and the NPRCs Program) and HIV collaborating scientists David Watkins (UW–Madison and WiNPRC), Ronald Desrosiers (Harvard and New England NPRC), Bruce Walker (Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital), Dennis Burton (Scripps Research Institute), Ashley Haase (University of Minnesota), and members of the Watkins lab. On Sept. 13, Watkins also taught UW’s first class to undergraduates on AIDS: “HIV: Sex, Society and Science.”

Dr. Pauza is now Chief Science Officer for American Gene Technologies and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore. Dr. Watkins is now a professor of pathology at George Washington University. Scientists researching HIV today at the Primate Center and UW–Madison include three of Dr. Watkins’s former graduate students here: David O’Connor, Thomas Friedrich and David Evans.