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The Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery (CAVD) has recognized two young scientists at Duke University's Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) for their significant contributions toward the organization's goal of developing a vaccine to control the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Laurent Verkoczy, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke and the director of the Laboratory of B cell Immunoregulation at DHVI, is the most recent recipient of the Young and Early Career Investigator Recognition.

Verkoczy joined the faculty at Duke after obtaining his doctorate in immunology from the University of Toronto and completing a post-doctoral fellowship at The Scripps Institute. 

His work focuses on understanding the function of the body's B- cell system and how it might be manipulated to create a more powerful immune response against HIV. He is passionate about his work.

"HIV is clearly a unique virus that will require thinking outside the box to overcome, and as a basic immunologist, that is a particularly exciting, albeit agonizing aspect of this type of research. Even though this virus is so difficult to combat, and we are 25 years out from the start of the epidemic, I think that the time to work harder is now.

The epidemic is not slowing and that adds meaning to the basic science work and gives our work immediate relevance. If I can contribute a small piece to this daunting medical puzzle, that would bring me tremendous satisfaction."

Sunhee Lee, PhD, also an assistant professor of medicine at DHVI, was designated one of the first recipients of the Young and Early Career Investigator Recognition in July.

Lee trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, focusing on studying plant/microbe interactions. Dr. Lee was recognized for her work with mycobacterial vectors that can be used in a HIV vaccine to enhance an immune response. 

At Duke she is working to develop safer and more effective vaccines and immune-based therapies that could be used against drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. Like Verkoczy, she thrives on the quest for better vaccines.

"I am inspired by the complexity of nature and science and how every organism fits into its own niche on the planet.  That complexity inspires me to work to find novel and creative solutions."

Both Verkoczy and Lee work under the direction of Barton Haynes, MD, professor of medicine at Duke, director of the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and director of the Haynes Vaccine Discovery Consortium, one of 19 research collaboratives around the world supported by the CAVD.

Haynes says Lee and Verkoczy represent the best in the new generation of young scientists at Duke and nationwide.

"They are both creative, independent thinkers yet are willing to also work with others to speed progress on problems that are of great importance to society such as solving the problems of prevention of HIV and TB transmission. At their young ages, they already are making great contributions."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery in 2006 to accelerate the pace of HIV vaccine research, in support of the Scientific Plan of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.