FORT LAUDERDALE – Massimo Caputi, PhD, a professor of biomedical science at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton, has found a novel class of molecules called circular RNAs that HIV-1 generates while replicating in human cells.
“These molecules have the shape of a closed circle and are derived from the RNA that the virus utilizes to produce the viral proteins,” says Caputi.
To further his research, The Campbell Foundation has awarded Caputi a $75,000 grant to define the precise amount and composition of the circular RNA molecules produced by HIV-1 and determine their role in the replication of the virus.
“Understanding how HIV replicates in infected cells and how it can escape the control of the immune system is essential for creating new therapeutic approaches to eradicate HIV,” Caputi said.
“In addition, because of the high HIV-1 mutation rate, new multi-drug resistant strains are appearing with growing frequency and have accentuated the need for the development of drugs with novel mechanisms of action.”
Closed circles of RNAs have been shown to regulate the immune system and are often associated with cancer, neurological disorders, autoimmune and cardiovascular disease.
“Obtaining a clear understanding of the function of these novel molecules may lead to the development of new ways to treat HIV,” said Ken Rapkin, The Campbell Foundation’s Executive Director.
In approving the funding, one of The Campbell Foundation’s Peer Review Board members called Caputi’s research “a very exciting, promising project” that is “exploring new ground” in HIV research. Another Peer Review Board member called the proposal “very innovative” and “will lead to a greater understanding of the biology of HIV and potentially identify additional therapeutic targets.”
Caputi has developed novel techniques to study RNA binding protein interactions and has made important contributions to understanding how cellular proteins modulate the replication of the HIV-1 genome.
In 2017, The Campbell Foundation provided Caputi with a $30,000 “fast-track” grant to study the use of a cellular protein named SRSF1 to inhibit HIV replication in T-cells. These cells play a key role in a person’s immune system and are attacked and destroyed by the virus. That grant allowed him to make enough headway in his investigation for the National Institutes of Health to award him a $448,500 grant to further his research.
“Our organization is proud to have provided Dr. Caputi with the seed funding needed to further his research. We hope that he is able to do the same with this latest grant,” said Rapkin.
About The Campbell Foundation
The Campbell Foundation was established in 1995 by the late Richard Campbell Zahn as a private, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting clinical, laboratory-based research into the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It focuses its funding on supporting alternative, nontraditional avenues of research. In its 26th year, the Campbell Foundation has given away more than $11.8 million, with about $1.3 million going to direct services.