NIH Funds AIDS Research at Harvard

The National Institutes for Health has renewed funding for the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) with a $18.1 million grant over the next five years.

The grant focuses on bolstering the interdisciplinary study of AIDS and HIV, by bringing together scientists from fields such as economics, ethics, immunology, and virology.

“It’s been a terrific source of funds for us to launch new efforts and be able to help recruit new faculty,” said Bruce D. Walker, director of the Harvard CFAR and a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Harvard CFAR is one of only 20 accredited AIDS research centers nationwide. According to Walker, the Harvard CFAR’s role in studying the intersection of the HIV and Tuberculosis epidemics is just one example of how otherwise independent investigations can come together at the center.

“We hope to set up more interdisciplinary collaborations between people who have very different kinds of AIDS research specialization, whether they are an immunologist, behavioral scientist, epidemiologist, or statistician,” said Myron “Max” Essex, the associate director of the Harvard CFAR and a professor of health sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The Harvard CFAR is managed by the Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH), an interfaculty initiative of the President and Provost’s Office.

“Broadly, our mission is to train and educate the next generation of global health leaders and generate new knowledge that leads to addressing the major challenges facing the world in global health,” said Thomas A. La Salvia, executive director of HIGH.

By connecting Harvard researchers from different schools to the issues in global health, HIGH serves as a solid platform for CFAR, La Salvia said.

Building Bees From Bolts

Boston’s Museum of Science will soon have a new exhibition explaining the behavior of bees thanks to a $10 million, five-year National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing Grant.

The collaborators, including faculty at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a number of affiliate institutions, hope the bee models will lead to advances in small scale robotics, power sources and sensors, and biologically-inspired computer programming.

The relatively new grant was developed last year by the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering and is awarded to three institutions annually. It funds research rooted in basic science that is of “high risk but potentially high reward” said Gu-Yeon Wei, an associate professor of electrical engineering at SEAS and co-principal investigator of the project.

“This is such cool research, as the practical, technological aspects of the project dovetail with deep fundamental issues in computer science, robotics, biology, and engineering,” said Cherry A. Murray, Dean of SEAS, in the press release.

Wei recalled walking by Robert J. Wood’s nanorobotics lab—where he demonstrated the first flight of a robotic fly in 2007—and thinking “Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting if we took Rob’s insect robots and attached a brain to them?”

They then began to think of the challenges associated with an entire colony and coordinating its activities. The project now has three main thrusts: brain, body, and colony.

The researchers aim to build a colony of robotic bees that can be individually programmed to perform actions that benefit the hive as a whole, said Wood, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the engineering school and the project’s principal investigator.

“The inspiration came from observations of actual bees,” Wood said. “Not only bees themselves, but also the interactions bees have with each other and how they cooperate to do things that are much greater than some of the parts.”

“This was a great opportunity to bring together traditionally separate research areas under the focus of a common goal,” he added.

—Staff writer Alissa M. D’Gama can be reached at adgama@fas.harvard.edu.