Amelia Escolano

2020 Regional Award Finalist — Post-Doc

Amelia Escolano

Current Position:
Research Associate

The Rockefeller University


Recognized for: Groundbreaking HIV research, designing a novel immunization procedure that could lead to a vaccine against HIV-1. By sequentially exposing mice to several different forms of a protein found on the HIV-1 virus over a five month period, Escolano was able to train the immune system to make antibodies that neutralize a broad diversity of strains of the rapidly mutating HIV-1 virus.

2020 Regional Awards Life Sciences Honorees

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Vaccines, Immunology, Antibodies, HIV-1, Immunization

Previous Positions:

BS, University of Oviedo, Spain
MSc, Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO), Spain
PhD, National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC), Spain (Advisor: Prof. Juan M. Redondo)
Postdoctoral Fellow, The Rockefeller University (Advisor: Prof. Michel Nussenzweig)

Research Summary:

Developing an effective vaccine for HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, has proven incredibly challenging. The HIV-1 virus persistently mutates, creating an incredibly large number of genetically diverse circulating HIV-1 strains. An efficacious vaccine against HIV-1 will need to confer protection against a significant fraction of different circulating HIV-1 strains. Amelia Escolano, PhD, has taken on this 30 year-old challenge by developing a novel immunization procedure. Her goal was to train the immune system to create special types of antibodies, called broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs), which can neutralize a broad diversity of strains of HIV-1 from infecting cells. BNAbs develop in a small fraction of HIV-1 infected individuals upon multiple rounds of somatic hypermutation—the immune cells’ ability to rapidly mutate their own genes to create new and unique antibodies. This ability to adapt enables the immune system to keep up with the rapidly mutating HIV-1 virus.

To accomplish this feat, Escolano created a strain of genetically modified mice that could produce a human version of a bNAb. This antibody targets the Envelope (Env) protein on the surface of the HIV-1 virus. She then performed a series of injections over a five month period, whereby each injection had a slightly different version of Env. This sequential immunization process trained the immune system to undergo somatic hypermutation and make bNAbs that could effectively neutralize HIV-1.

This strain of mouse had a simple immune system and allowed for the optimization of the immunization procedure. Non-genetically modified animals, such as monkeys and humans, have a more complex immune system. Because of this increased complexity, Escolano is now pursuing research that can translate her sequential immunization protocol to humans. These new immunization techniques provide a pathway to finally develop an effective vaccine for HIV-1.

I am excited to become a member of the Blavatnik community and benefit from the interactions with the Blavatnik Family Foundation and previous and future honorees. Receiving this recognition encourages me to pursue my studies and offers me a unique platform to support science and the advancement of women in STEM.

Key Publications:

  1. Z. Wang, J. Merkenschlager, S. T. Chen, T. Y. Oliveira, et al. Isolation of single HIV-1 Envelope specific B cells and antibody cloning from immunized rhesus macaques. Journal of Immunological Methods, 2020.

  2. A. Escolano, H. B. Gristick, M. E. Abernathy, J. Merkenschlager, et al. Immunization expands B cells specific to HIV-1 V3 glycan in mice and macaques. Nature, 2019.

  3. A. Escolano, J. M. Steichen, P. Dosenovic, et al. Sequential immunization elicits broadly neutralizing anti-HIV-1 antibodies in Ig knock-in mice. Cell, 2016.

Other Honors:

2016Scripps-CHAVI-ID Young Investigator Award, CHAVID-ID
2016Escolano et al. Cell, 2016 is selected as one of the Notable Advances of 2016 by Nature Medicine.


In the Media:

Gilead Sciences Inc., Press Release – Gilead Sciences Licenses Portfolio of HIV Antibodies From The Rockefeller University