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Bruce Torbett Receives $29 Million Award for HIV Research

July 7, 2022

Dr. Bruce Torbett’s NIH/NIAID five-year, $29 million award will support establishment of a multi-institutional “collaboratory” of leading HIV researchers.

Congratulations to Dr. Bruce Torbett on his five-year U54 award worth $29,840,198 from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to establish and support the Behavior of HIV In Viral Environments (B-HIVE) Center.

The B-HIVE Center is a multi-institutional program comprising 31 leading HIV researchers at 15 U.S. institutions and one in England. One of six funded centers nationally, B-HIVE is a highly collaborative project that will study HIV, the cause of AIDS, at the atomic, genomic and biological level.

The Center will be co-directed by Bruce, principal investigator and associate director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and professor in Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Stefan Sarafianos, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, is the co-director. The two researchers first began their collaboration 10 years ago.

“We have formed an international ‘collaboratory,’ a research center without walls, to defeat HIV,” Bruce said. “It’s like the Human Genome Project, focused on HIV—we’re leveraging our complementary scientific expertise to solve seemingly intractable problems.”

About 37.7 million people are infected with HIV worldwide. HIV uses human cell proteins and machinery to replicate, spread to other cells in the body, and evade both the immune system and inhibiting drugs.

The B-HIVE team will investigate how HIV uses human cellular proteins to enter cells, move through the cell to the nucleus, where it copies its RNA to DNA, then inserts its DNA into the DNA of the human cell. Additional studies will determine how HIV uses host cell proteins to package its RNA, to produce HIV and leave the cell. This information will inform computational models to visualize HIV, offering an unprecedented view into how HIV is formed and functions within human cells. The modeling will help identify the virus’ weaknesses, which may lead to new treatments. 

“Drugs are available to treat HIV, but treatments are needed that are longer lasting and that target new parts of the virus. As people live longer with HIV, the virus can become drug-resistant when individuals miss their treatments,” Bruce said. “As we better understand the HIV structures in the cell, we can create new drugs that bind to and inactivate virus, defy resistance, are longer lasting when taken, and importantly can be used in adults and children. The new technologies developed by the Center for interrogating and visualizing HIV in cells can be shared and also used to study other viruses, such as coronaviruses and monkeypox virus.”

To ensure a current and future diverse research community to combat HIV and other medically important pathogens, one of the B-HIVE Center’s central goals is to provide a framework of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives to support and foster training of the next generation of structural and molecular biologists.

— Colleen Steelquist

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