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The Marvel of Modern Technology

The Marvel of Modern Technology


A computer program developed by a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I., may help speed HIV vaccine research by identifying and cataloging fragments of HIV that produce immune system responses. Anne DeGroot, associate professor of community health, and other members of Brown's HIV and tuberculosis research team developed the computer program known as EpiMatrix during the late 1990s. DeGroot incorporated the EpiMatrix technology as the EpiVax company in May 1998. Most vaccines use killed or crippled versions of pathogens to prime the body's immune system to attack bacteria and viruses. But to date vaccine research using dead HIV has been unsuccessful; weakened versions of the virus are considered too hazardous to test in humans. DeGroot's EpiMatrix program instead identifies HIV epitopes, small compounds composed of short stretches of amino acids contained within the virus that prompt immune responses. The computer program compiles the genetic data, identifying epitope combinations that may prove effective as a preventive HIV vaccine. EpiMatrix also is being used to catalog and combine tuberculosis epitopes for TB vaccine research. The National Institutes of Health, Rhode Island's Slater Center for Biomedical Technology, and the Sequella Global Tuberculosis Foundation have all provided grants to EpiVax to continue developing and perfecting the epitope identification and cataloging process. DeGroot's efforts'and the EpiMatrix technology'have drawn worldwide attention, even garnering DeGroot a mention in Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri's 2003 State of the State address. DeGroot is also well-known for her advocacy work for the health care of prisoners, particularly those infected with HIV and hepatitis. She serves as the coeditor of the HIV & Hepatitis Education Prison Project Report, a publication serving correctional administrators and prison health care providers.

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