The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Duke University a $3 million grant for a study into why some people can resist HIV.

The study at the Center for Human Genome Variation will focus on what is called “host resistance.” Few people have such resistance, which is believed to be based in part on genetic variants.

For example, some people with hemophilia have demonstrated host resistance. The lead researcher in the project describes this “rare human genetic variation” as a “new frontier for discovery.”

David Goldstein, director of the center at , will lead the study along with Kevin Shianna and Jacques Fellay.

Noting the genetic variants are a key, Goldstein also said “these known variants explain only a very small amount of the differences among individuals exposed to the HIV virus. We think there are probably other, much rarer variants that also play a role. We just haven’t had the right tools to find them, but now we do."

Goldstein noted that a significant minority of hemophilia patients did not become infected with AIDS even though they were exposed to HIV-inflected blood in the 1970s and 1980s before blood safety controls were put in place.

"Interestingly, previous studies have shown that such individuals are 15 times more likely to carry a specific genetic variant linked to resistance than is a person in the general population," Goldstein said. "That enrichment for a known protective genetic factor tells us that HIV-exposed yet uninfected individuals with hemophilia form an ideal study group."

The researchers plan to use high-throughput gene sequencing for a study of the genome of 50 hemophiliacs from 1979-1984 who did not contract HIV. They will seek to identify gene variants that could be most likely connected with the HIV resistance.

"We hope this project will yield new information that will help us to further understand disease resistance and to identify new targets and guidance for drug and vaccine development," Goldstein said.