Biking for a Breakthrough

Second annual AIDS ride benefits Virginia doctor's research on HIV

Dr. Yuntao Wu felt so inspired by last year’s first “NYCDC AIDS Ride” benefiting his team’s research on HIV/AIDS at George Mason University, that he felt compelled to join in.

”This year I will be bicycling myself,” Wu says of the upcoming four-day, 330-mile bicycle ride from New York City that ends in the District on Sunday, Sept. 13.

”Last year I saw the riders and they were trying very hard, and I basically told them we have a common goal and we are on a team together.”

Riders raised more than $75,000 last year, with more than 80 percent of that going towards Wu’s research.

This year, organizers are hoping to double that contribution.

”The goal is over $150,000,” says D.C. resident Tim Weinheimer, who is gay and one of the original organizers of the ride. ”I think we will achieve that goal.”

Wu and his research team published relatively recent findings in a September 2008 Cell journal article describing how the HIV virus breaks a protective barrier to get inside the T cell, eventually causing it to deteriorate.

Since the article was published, Wu says he has made more progress turning his study into a clinical one with preliminary testing on HIV-positive patients.

”It’s never been done before,” he says. ”It was our first attempt to look for cofilin, a molecule we discovered that appears to be associated with the viral infection. We looked for cofilin activity in patients and right now I am looking for future funding to expand the study.

”Most research is looking at HIV as a virus,” Wu says. ”Our study is from the cellular side. We want to understand how the virus changes cellular function.”

Ride director Marty Rosen, founder of New York City’s annual Empire State AIDS Ride (ESAR) and who worked as a health reporter when the AIDS epidemic first hit in the 1980s, made Wu the sole recipient of the NYCDC AIDS Ride after meeting with him at GMU in 2007. Rosen says Wu is once again the sole beneficiary of this year’s ride, which includes 45 riders who are required to raise at least $2,500 each.

”He is, in my board’s opinion and in my opinion, doing some of the smartest AIDS research out there right now,” she says. ”We’re very proud of the work that he’s doing.”

While it’s too late to sign up for the ride, Weinheimer says it’s never too late to donate for the cause.

”With HIV rates at an all-time high in one of the world’s capital cities, now more than ever it’s imperative that we support someone who has come so far in such a short amount of time with his research,” he says.

”I think if there’s a cause where your money can go directly to someone like Dr. Wu, why wouldn’t you donate? Why wouldn’t you participate in something this amazing?”

To donate to the NYCDC AIDS Ride, visit www.nycdc.org.