Leibniz Lecture with Virologist Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff

Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff

(13.08.15) A recipient of the Leibniz Prize has once again been invited to give Leibniz Lectures in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The Leibniz Prize is the most prestigious research funding prize in Germany and is awarded annually by the DFG. German virologist Frank Kirchhoff, a professor at Ulm University Medical Center, will give his presentation entitled “Why Was HIV-1 Able to Cause the AIDS Pandemic?” for his two Leibniz Lectures. They will be held in the auditorium of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) on 17 August and in the convention centre of the Windsor Florida Hotel in Rio de Janeiro on 19 August.

The Leibniz Lecture is a format developed by the DFG in which recipients of the Leibniz Prize are invited to give international presentations, seminars and schedule appointments in order to promote dialogue in that country between the renowned prizewinners, the research community and the general public.

Brazil plays a very important role internationally in the research field of infectious diseases. As a result, Professor Kirchhoff will visit a number of specialist and medical research centres during his stay in Brazil. He has set up appointments with the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, the Heart Institute (InCor), and Instituto Butantan, the biomedical research centre in São Paulo, as well as the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), the biggest biomedical research institute in Latin America, and the National Cancer Institute (INCA) in Rio de Janeiro, which plays an active role in cancer prevention and control. When it comes to establishing contact with early career researchers, Professor Kirchhoff will also give a talk to students at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s (UFRJ) Institute of Biology. After this talk, there will also be a workshop initiated by graduates of the Institute, who will present their research work.

Frank Kirchhoff is a prominent researcher in the field of AIDS/HIV who has been investigating the Nef protein of HIV and has thus been helping to improve the understanding of the pathogenesis of HIV/AIDS. Other important discoveries in his research into the ways in which HIV infections are transmitted also make it possible to find new ways to improve AIDS prevention – a topic that is of great interest to researchers in this field and the general public alike.

The Leibniz Lectures are open to anyone who is interested and are delivered in English. A reception will be held after the respective events.

Further information

São Paulo

Date: 17 August 2015
Time: 2:30 pm
Location: FAPESP, Rua Pio XI, 1500, Alto da Lapa

Rio de Janeiro

Date: 19 August 2015
Time: 2:30 pm
Location: Convention centre of the Windsor Florida Hotel (Excelsior meeting room), Rua Ferreira Viana, 81, Flamengo

Overview of the Contents of the Leibniz Lecture
“Why Was HIV-1 Able to Cause the AIDS Pandemic?”

Simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) have been detected in more than 40 different non-human primate species in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, of these various species, sooty mangabeys, gorillas and chimpanzees are the only ones to have transmitted their virus to humans. Only one of at least thirteen independent transmissions is responsible for the AIDS pandemic. In his presentation, Kirchhoff will start by describing the origin and development of the pandemic HIV-1 group M, which is responsible for almost all AIDS cases. At this juncture he will discuss which characteristics contribute to its effective spreading and outline the reason why HIV-1 M strains are perfectly adapted to human beings and how they bypass or antagonise all defensive mechanisms. He will also present evidence that the rare HIV-1 group N is currently adapting more and more to humans and that there is an alternative way to antagonise the antiviral factor tetherin – which blocks the release of HIV-1 particles – which would explain the epidemic spreading of the HIV-1 group O in Africa. Furthermore, Kirchhoff will present his thoughts on HIV-1 evolving and thus losing its capability to suppress the activation and death of infected CD4+ T cells being a possible explanation as to why HIV-1 causes AIDS, whereas SIVs do not trigger disease in their natural hosts. In summary, the presentation will show that the immunodeficiency viruses’ remarkable resilience was the precondition for one of the deadliest pandemics of the modern era.

Information about the researcher

Frank Kirchhoff studied biology in Göttingen and obtained his doctorate from the German Primate Center with a thesis on a new HIV-2 clone. It was during his time as a postdoctoral researcher at the renowned Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts that he first became interested in the Nef protein of HIV, which remained the focus of his work when he returned to Germany in 1994. He worked as an assistant, lecturer and professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg before accepting an appointment in Ulm in 2001. He has been the Director of the Institute of Molecular Virology ever since it was founded in 2009.