The search for more advanced HIV treatments continues as scientists diligently work to find a cure and develop vaccines.

Massimo Caputi, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical science at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton, has found a new class of molecules called circular RNAs that HIV-1 generates while replicating in human cells.

Circular RNA is a type of single-stranded RNA which, unlike linear RNA, forms a closed continuous loop. Closed circles of RNAs have been shown to regulate the immune system and are often associated with cancer, neurological disorders, autoimmune and cardiovascular disease.

“These molecules have the shape of a closed circle and are derived from the RNA that the virus utilizes to produce the viral proteins,” wrote Caputi in a previously released statement.

To help advance his research, The Campbell Foundation has awarded Caputi a $75,000 grant to define the precise amount and composition of the circular RNA molecules produced by HIV-1 and determine their role in replicating the virus.

“Understanding how HIV replicates in infected cells and how it can escape the control of the immune system is essential for creating new therapeutic approaches to eradicate HIV,” Caputi said. “In addition, because of the high HIV-1 mutation rate, new multi-drug resistant strains are appearing with growing frequency and have accentuated the need for the development of drugs with novel mechanisms of action.”

“Obtaining a clear understanding of the function of these novel molecules may lead to the development of new ways to treat HIV,” said Ken Rapkin, The Campbell Foundation’s executive director. “Our organization is proud to have provided Dr. Caputi with the seed funding needed to further his research. We hope that he is able to do the same with this latest grant.”

The Campbell Foundation’s Peer Review Board describes this research as exciting and innovative. The hope is that it will lead to a greater understanding of the biology of HIV.

Caputi has spent the last year and a half working on new methods to detect COVID-19 and has also developed novel techniques to study RNA binding protein interactions and has made significant contributions to understanding how cellular proteins modulate the replication of the HIV-1 genome.