Hillel Haim, University of Iowa assistant professor of microbiology, is working on establishing new approaches to inactivate human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and to increase its sensitivity to antibodies elicited by vaccines.

In his lab, Haim, M.D., Ph.D., studies the envelopes, or components that adorn the surface of the virus. These proteins are normally tightly assembled, making them inaccessible to antibodies. But in certain circumstances, such as when exposed to cold, the envelopes can loosen up and become more sensitive to inactivation by antibodies and other inhibitors.

Haim and his team have been searching for chemical agents that would cause the envelopes to open in a similar manner and thus enhance the virus’s sensitivity to vaccines. It is a long-term project, but Haim received FY2015 GAP funding through UI Ventures to aid in the development and eventual commercialization of his findings.

Through the GAP funding, Haim said the long-term goal has “been made a bit less long term.”

Specifically, the GAP fund will allow Haim and his lab to test specific agents and their toxicity, as well as analyze their effect on infection of cervicovaginal tissues cultured in the lab in the presence of human semen.

Haim said he was happy to receive the GAP funding. He came to the university less than two years ago and has spent most of that time setting up the three different programs in his lab. In addition to the HIV inactivation, he and his team also track how the HIV-1 virus has changed over the past 30 years in the population and how influenza’s properties change in the course of a season.

Now that all three programs are established, he is beginning to apply for both internal and external funding. The GAP fund is the first application he submitted.

“I think I was very fortunate in getting it, and I am very grateful,” Haim said.

Haim said the UI Research Foundation staff and the UI Ventures Associate Director Paul Dymerski were incredible assets in helping him translate his research into practical language with a real-world application.

The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) is a 501C3 corporation that commercializes UI-developed technologies and inventions through licensing and new venture formation, and manages the subsequent revenue stream. The UIRF’s primary functions include identifying and developing new ventures, finding partners for commercializing and intellectual property services. More at https://research.uiowa.edu/uirf/

The UI Ventures program assists university inventors in creating new ventures based on their research. UI Ventures provides education and mentoring to advance entrepreneurs and emerging growth companies by linking them with the capital, talent and other critical resources they need for success. More at http://uiventures.uiowa.edu/.

To view all FY15 GAP awardees, visit http://research.uiowa.edu/impact/news/ui-awards-gap-funding-11-faculty-innovators.

By Anne Easker