Newsletter Vol 7: Top Achievments of 2011

Newsletter Vol 7: Top Achievments of 2011

Jan 18

With a daily focus on excellence, researchers at the Ragon Institute have pushed HIV research forward over the past year.


During 2011, 43 individual Ragon scientists wrote and published 83 publications  and many were promoted to faculty positions or won prestigious fellowship awards.


Highlighted below are the top four accomplishments of 2011:



Identifying HIV Protein Breakdown Process May Lead to More Effective Vaccine Development


The June 2011 Journal of Clinical Investigation article entitled “Variable cytosolic oligopeptide stability plays a critical role in HIV epitope presentation and immune escape” identified a new step in HIV protein breakdown.


HIV-specific CD8 T cells can recognize and destroy HIV-infected cells because they display HIV peptides at their surface. Defining the amount of HIV peptides available for display offers a potential new way of regulating HIV peptide presentation for vaccine in order to produce the most effective defense against HIV.


Ragon Institute faculty member Dr. Sylvie Le Gall led the study and is a senior author on the paper.


Reference: Lazaro E., Kadie C., Stamegna P., Zhang S.C., Gourdain P., Lai N.Y., Zhang M., Martinez S.M., Heckerman D., Le Gall S. Variable cytosolic oligopeptide stability plays a critical role in HIV epitope presentation and immune escape, J. Clin. Invest. 2011; Jun 1;121(6):2480-92. PMC3104749




Understanding How NK Cells Help the Body Control HIV Might Lead to Better Prevention and Treatment


A study published in the August 2011 Nature described for the first time how Natural Killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system’s initial line of defense, can impose immune pressure and contribute to the control over HIV.


Previous research indicated that only T cells and antibodies were capable of this. However, this new knowledge that a third type of cell directly contributes towards viral control will enable scientists to develop better preventative and treatment methods against HIV.


Drs. Galit Alter, David Heckerman, Arne Schneidewind and Lena Fadda served as shared first authors on the study, which included several additional Ragon investigators, Mary Carrington, Todd Allen, and Marcus Altfeld as senior authors.


Reference: Alter G., Heckerman D, Schneidewind A, Fadda L, Kadie CM, Carlson JM, Oniangue-Ndza C, Martin M, Li B, Khakoo SI, Carrington M, Allen TM, Altfeld M., HIV-1 adaptation to NK-cell-mediated immune pressure. Nature. 2011 Aug 3;476(7358):96-100. doi: 10.1038/nature10237. read article




Gates Grand Challenge Award Advances Research in Global Health and Development


Modern antiviral treatments can reduce the burden of replicating virus in HIV-infected subjects to an undetectable level in many cases. However, these treatments are not a cure, because HIV rebounds in subjects who interrupt antiviral drug therapy.


In April 2011, Ragon faculty member Dr. Daniel Kavanagh was awarded the prestigious Gates Grand Challenge Award. The $100,000 award will enable the Kavanagh lab to develop novel molecular imaging techniques to characterize the reservoirs of hidden virus in subjects on antiviral therapy.




Ragon Institute Expands Laboratory and Office Space in Order to Accelerate Research

With the tremendous expansion of research at the Ragon Institute a need has developed to expand current lab and administrative space. Therefore, in December 2011, Massachusetts General Hospital signed a lease on space in Kendall Square, Cambridge, to house a new Ragon Institute facility.


The 75,000 square foot space at 400 Tech Square of includes office space, BL2 and BL3 labs, a vivarium and an auditorium spread among four floors of the 10-story building. Construction will begin in April 2012 and is renovations are expected to be completed by September 2012.


The Tech Square area, adjacent to both Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, has been described as the “densest square mile of innovation on the planet.” Positioning the Ragon Institute in the heart of innovation will provide the optimal environment for advancing immunology research and for accelerating the quest for an AIDS vaccine.