A Pioneer in AIDS Research
Alex Garner

When you are an AIDS research organization that has had a couple lean years, it can be a challenge to let people know you are still doing pioneering work on HIV. The AIDS Research Alliance has met that challenge with the same robust enthusiasm with which they pursue their projects. They’ve moved to a large, state-of-the-art laboratory in Downtown L.A., they won a $250,000 grant from Pepsi and they are doing groundbreaking work with an exciting compound called Prostratin. It seems like the ideal time for the organization to get reacquainted with the community.

In 1989, during the height of the AIDS crisis, The AIDS Research Alliance was founded by Dr. Paul Rothman and Matthew Rushton. They created this coalition as a way for doctors to share information about treatments and research. As AIDS Research Alliance evolved, it became a well-respected, community-based research organization with a facility in the heart of West Hollywood.

As time passed, people started to give less and less money to HIV, the economy failed and AIDS Research Alliance lost its space in West Hollywood. In 2009, ARA moved into a new building in Downtown L.A. Though the medical complex has twice the space as the old facility, the move meant ARA would be losing a valuable connection to the community that had been an integral part of their evolution. ARA became part of Downtown’s ongoing redevelopment, yet had to double its efforts to expand community outreach and find participants for their numerous trials.

In 2010, the beleaguered ARA got an enormous boost with a $250,000 grant from Pepsi through the Pepsi Refresh Project. This large infusion of cash meant that ARA could advance its ongoing research and clinical trials while less encumbered by the difficult economic times.

One of the most promising components of ARA’s research is its work with Prostratin. The National Institutes of Health gave ARA an exclusive license to develop Prostratin as a drug to fight HIV. Prostratin activates a protein that promotes replication of the virus, thus flushing HIV out of its viral reservoirs. This is essential to destroy the dormant virus because it’s the best hope for eradicating the virus from the body, as opposed to keeping it at undetectable levels.

ARA’s research scientist Dr. Marisa Briones believes it’s a time to be “optimistic about vaccine development.” Dr. Briones is at the forefront of viral reservoir research, and her keen knowledge and determination are a great asset to ARA. But Briones is just one part of the ARA team eager to approach the changing landscape of HIV science.

In these tough economic times, ARA has maintained its commitment to innovative research, and it exists “to develop a cure for HIV.” ARA would be happy to see its existence come to an end because of successful research and the eradication of HIV, but it would be tragic if the organization ceased to exist due to lack of funding.


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