The HIV virus still poses unsolved problems. Despite decades of research, no vaccine yet exists. An international project supported by the Gates Foundation, Fraunhofer, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Saarland in Germany has set out to develop a global HIV cryobank.
HIV viruses are adaptable and versatile, with many variations worldwide, and they reproduce within the cells of the immune system of infected people. Virus collections are therefore indispensable instruments in the development of a vaccine -- yet the existing virus collections are decentralized and inadequately standardized.
An international consortium has therefore been set up to establish a modern, central HIV cryobank where viruses and cells of the immune system and other relevant reagents can be perfectly preserved at liquid nitrogen temperatures and retrieved at any time. Coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT, the consortium has been awarded the task of developing and installing one of the most modern global HIV cryobanks, the Global HIV Vaccine Research Cryobank. The project partners are distinguished institutions in Europe and the USA: the World Health Organisation, the British National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy, the Universities of Lund, Saarland and Washington, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The enterprise is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private foundation to finance programs for combating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.
The researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have already developed a technology platform that stores biological samples in small closed well substrates allowing the removal of single wells at low temperatures. The advantage is that the rest of the precious sample stays cold and safely stored. Another development are cryo-tolerant electronic memory chips. These are firmly attached to the sample and may be read and written even at -180°C. Information about each sample is stored in a central databank. A wrongly stored sample can be detected automatically by communication between the central databank and the cold memory chips in the cryo containers. This technology not only sets standards for HIV storage; it is also a core element of banking for stem cells. Fraunhofer researchers currently hold the worldwide leadership in this field of future biotechnology and medicine.
The project will establish a unique virus bank and also store additional reagents necessary for vaccine research. These will undergo virological and immunological characterization and be used for the development of vaccines and new therapies. These samples and the resulting important biological data will serve as a tool for scientists worldwide.
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