Carnegie Mellon University

Gates Foundation Grant

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Scientist to Pursue HIV Research

Blood Cells

Judith Klein-Seetharaman, a research scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Language Technologies Institute, has received a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She will use computational tools in a search for new anti-HIV therapies.

Klein-Seetharaman's project is one of 104 grants announced by the Gates Foundation for the first funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations. This initiative is aimed at helping scientists around the world explore bold, new solutions for health challenges in developing countries. Grants were provided to scientists in 22 countries on five continents.

Klein-Seetharaman studies computational biolinguistics, which uses the statistical methods originally developed for deciphering human languages as a means of understanding molecular languages — such as the sequence of amino acids that make up proteins. In this new project, she will analyze the sequences of biochemical reactions inside cells that are known as signal transduction pathways.

HIV is able to replicate itself inside cells by intercepting normal signal transduction pathways at one or more steps in the sequence. Klein-Seetharaman predicts that cells have parallel pathways for sending signals and that if one pathway is disrupted by HIV it may be possible to restore proper cell signaling by altering the activity of its parallel pathway.

"Knowing this information should enable biomedical scientists to design very specific, potentially more effective anti-HIV therapies," she said.

"I congratulate each individual who took the initiative to share their idea with us to help fight the world's most serious diseases," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "The number of creative approaches we received exceeded our highest aspirations.  Projects from this initial pool of grants have the potential to transform health in developing countries, and I will be rooting for their success."

Klein-Seetharaman has been affiliated since 2001 with Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, where she has been the founding co-director of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Center for Biological Language Modeling.

Related Links: Language Technologies Institute  |  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  |  School of Computer Science