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LANL scientist Bette Korber honored for work on HIV vaccine

SANTA FE – Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named scientist of the year by R&D magazine, for her innovative “mosaic” design for an HIV vaccine.

Bette Korber

“We selected Bette as our 2018 Scientist of the Year to recognize not only her groundbreaking contribution to the mosaic vaccine and the fight against HIV, but also for her continued commitment to trying new and innovative scientific approaches,” said Bea Riemschneider, the magazine’s editorial director.

When the first efficacy study for the mosaic vaccine was announced last year, Korber said, “My life’s work has been devoted to developing strategies to create a global HIV vaccine; mosaics were a realization of one such strategy.”

“It was initially very difficult to convince biologists that mosaic proteins, designed by evolving sequences in a computer, could ever lead to a viable vaccine approach. It is hugely rewarding to see this progress being made.”

“Thanks to experimentalist colleagues who were willing to give this radical but reasoned approach a try, mosaics have come a long way, and they have shown enough promise in monkey trials to merit further testing in people,” she said. “Now we have to settle in for few more years of suspense as the human trial unfolds. I’m delighted, relieved and a bit astonished that the mosaic concept has come this far.”

LANL has explained her work in the context of trying to find an HIV vaccine that can fight the virus’s diversity.

“HIV-1 has an ability to mutate rapidly, which results in multiple strains and subtypes prevalent in different parts of the world,” according to a lab news release last year. “Understanding the history, structure and complexity of the viral foe has been key to developing the mosaic vaccine antigens, assembled from natural sequences, which are optimized to achieve coverage of the many different versions of HIV proteins that are circulating. The goal of the mosaic vaccine is to elicit immune responses that can protect a vaccinated person from the world of HIV diversity that they might encounter.”

R&D said Korber’s work has led to testing a mosaic vaccine in humans with support from the National Institues of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “a milestone few others have reached.”