Davidson Fellows - 2012 Fellow Nina Lu


Nina Lu

$25,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 18
Rockville, MD
Category: Science
Project Title: “Determination of Binding Energy Hotspots on a Broadly-Neutralizing Antibody against HIV-1.”


Nina’s project, “Determination of Binding Energy Hotspots on a Broadly Neutralizing Antibody against HIV-1” analyzed the complex interactions between HIV and broadly neutralizing antibody VRC01 on an atomic level. This antibody is particularly interesting as a template for HIV vaccines because it is able to protect against 91% of circulating HIV strains. She found that of thirty-two contact amino acids on VRC01, only nine contributed significantly to VRC01’s binding energy to HIV, the amount of energy released when an antibody binds to an antigen. Her study further identified a signature single-residue structural hotspot conserved in three VRC01-like antibodies. Nina’s research lays the groundwork for the rational design of a near universal HIV vaccine as well as potent next-generation HIV therapeutics that target and complement these binding energy hotspots to increase effectiveness and specificity of treatment.

The results of Nina’s research has implications on the rational design of HIV vaccine candidates with the potential to protect millions of people from contracting this deadly disease, and potent next-generation anti-HIV therapeutics that would help treat the 33.3 million people already infected. Scientists will apply the hotspots of broadly neutralizing antibody VRC01 determined in her paper to inform future immunogen design, producing vaccines that target and take advantage of identified binding energy hotspots to allow for the precise formation of a smaller functional domain of VRC01 rather than the entire contact surface. Although there is still considerable work to be done, Nina’s research is a valuable contribution to the constantly expanding body of knowledge about HIV and the development of methods to effectively prevent and treat this disease. The study also suggests a fundamental paradigm shift necessary in the existing approach to HIV vaccine design, specifically the targeting of a formerly overlooked CDR3 region in order to elicit VRC01-like antibodies in the human body.

Nina is a National Merit Finalist and President’s Volunteer Service Award recipient. She is a recent graduate of the Math, Science, and Computer Science Magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School. In the fall, Nina will be a student in the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology and plans to graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, one in engineering and one from Wharton’s undergraduate business program. Ultimately, her goal is to run her own tech/biotech startup.

Click the links below to view hi-res photos of Nina:

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2012 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Nina's press release.

For all media inquiries, please contact DavidsonFellowsMedia@davidsongifted.org

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