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|AIDS Vaccine 200 raises funds to help stem HIV|
|Written by Matt Schafer|
|Friday, 14 May 2010 00:00|
For Debra Snell, riding in the AIDS Vaccine 200 isn’t just a fundraiser for a good cause, but a way to reclaim a level of freedom and mobility she almost lost.
The AV 200 is the largest single source of unrestricted funds for the Emory Vaccine Center, bringing in close to $600,000 in eight years. Bike riders pedal themselves 200 miles over the course of a weekend to raise money that funds research and prevention efforts. This year’s ride is set for May 22-23.
While training for AV 200 two years ago, Snell was nearly run over by a driver who wasn’t paying attention to the road.
“I was training to ride in 2008 and I was hit by a car, and so I had a broken leg when it came time for the ride,” she says. “I was riding my bicycle on the Stone Mountain bike path and a car turned into me... I was very lucky.”
It took two years for the 56-year-old Candler Park resident to be in a place to ride. In the month since she declared her intentions to finish the ride she would have started in 2008, she has raised over $2,000
“I think all my friends and family are so happy to have me back riding again they just want to support me,” Snell says.
This year will be the largest ride in the event’s history with 130 riders making the trip from the campus of Emory University to Camp Rock Eagle in Eatonton and back. Riders can make the entire 200-mile trip, ride 160 miles, or ride as part of a relay team.
“We are the largest source of unrestricted funds for the Emory Vaccine Center, and what that means is they can use our money for more novel research that won’t qualify for a federal grant or a [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation] grant,” organizer Brett Busch says. “There are some pretty stringent guidelines on how federal research dollars are spent, and it has to spent on research that already shows a promise.”
Riding for research
Emory divides the money between research efforts and the Hope Clinic, which performs clinical trials for vaccines and helps develop prevention and education efforts.
“It’s a tremendous resource and advantage to benefit from the AIDS Vaccine 200. We have federal grants to pay for much of our work, but we have needs that aren’t covered by federal dollars,” Dr. Mark Mulligan, Hope Clinic executive director, says. “The bike riders have been a pivotal in helping us because they allow us to do more.
Hope is currently conducting four clinical trials and several education and prevention programs. Two of the trails are Phase II human trails of different vaccines, one of which is currently looking for men who have sex with men between the ages of 18 and 45, and another which benefited from AV 200 funds while it was in the development stages.
A portion of the funds the riders raise is used to support new research before it can attract federal and private grants. One of the programs that received help from the AV 200 is Dr. Harriet Robinson’s vaccine, one of the Phase II clinical trials ongoing at the Hope Clinic. It is one of the few AIDS vaccines to reach this stage of testing, and Robinson is hopeful that her vaccine will not only stop the spread of HIV, but have a therapeutic value for those who are already HIV-positive.
“The ride particularly helped the therapeutic program off the ground,” Robinson says.
Last year’s ride raised $175,000, and while Busch didn’t want to discuss a goal for this year, he hopes to write a large check.
“I think we’re still going to make it but it’s a tough year… I think it’s the second year in a weak economy, and right when we started our fundraising up the earthquake hit Haiti,” he says.
Individual riders are still accepting donations, and Busch says volunteers would be welcome to help with pit stops and other support functions. He also encouraged anyone interested in supporting the ride to come welcome them back by joining the riders for a BBQ at 5 p.m. on May 23 at the Emory School of Medicine.
Top photo: Debra Snell will join the AIDS Vaccine 200 this year after being hit by a car while training for the 2008 race. (Courtesy Snell)
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