NIH Awards $1.4M to UTEP HIV Researcher

By Daniel Perez
Posted: 7/8/11

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced July 4 that it awarded a $1.4 million, four-year grant to researcher Manuel Llano, Ph.D., to study cellular processes that could be used eventually to develop medicines to block HIV infection.

Llano, assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, will research how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects cells so better strategies can be designed to block infection that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

His research focuses on identifying cellular processes essential for HIV infection and ways to block the multiplication of the infected cells without causing the person who takes the current medication to experience negative side effects.

Llano has researched HIV since 2000; the past 5 years as a faculty member at UTEP. He said studies such as his are needed to develop new treatment alternatives.
 
“For me, this grant recognizes the good work that my students and I have done at UTEP,” he said. “For my research, it gives me the opportunity to continue my work.”

The researcher offered figures that reflected the seriousness of his task.
 
- Approximately 33.3 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.
- Around 1.8 million people have died of AIDS-related causes since the epidemic started in the 1980s.
- Hispanics make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 17 percent of the country’s HIV patients.

Llano said a secondary benefit to this grant is the opportunity to mentor the next generation of primary investigators. He spoke of the many UTEP students who have provided “crucial” assistance in his HIV research. Three of those students have earned doctoral degrees along the way. His current team consists of five undergraduate students and one master’s student.

Longtime colleague Martin E. Fernandez-Zapico, M.D., said Llano provides students with an environment that introduces them to the philosophy of science and exposes them to field research that will impact the health of millions worldwide.

Fernandez-Zapico, assistant professor of biochemistry/molecular biology, and also of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has known Llano for 10 years and said many factors make him a successful researcher.

“He has an exquisite combination of talent, dedication, commitment to excellence and outstanding interpersonal skills,” he said.

Significant health research such as that conducted by Llano helps the University in its drive to become a national research (Tier One) institution, said Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., the University’s vice president for research.

“The University is very pleased with the effort of Dr. Llano in securing this competitive award from the National Institutes of Health,” Osegueda said.


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