DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Duke researchers have received a federal grant to help them develop therapies and vaccines for HIV.

The grant of more than $27 million over five years was announced Tuesday by Duke Health.

Researchers will use the money to build structural models of HIV that will give them a better understanding of how the virus works.

“With this funding, we will create detailed three-dimensional models that will help us understand how HIV enters host cells, engages the host immune system and how it lies dormant within the host during antiretroviral therapy only to rebound when the therapy is withdrawn,” said Priyamvada Acharya, the project’s principal investigator and an associate professor in the departments of surgery and biochemistry.

“Such detailed models can greatly enhance our understanding of the virus and help us develop better ways to prevent and treat HIV infection,” Acharya said.

The new Duke Center for HIV Structural Biology at the university’s human vaccine institute will become one of the few centers across the country funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The center will focus on three areas, Acharya said.

— Breaking down precisely what happens when HIV enters the body.

— Building a model of the surface of a B cell and how a receptor interacts with parts of pathogens.

— Looking at the antibody response to one protein and how it can stop the virus from rebounding when therapy stops.

“These projects are essential to better understand how the immune system responds to and mounts a defense against HIV-1 infection,” said Dr. Barton Haynes, the director of the Duke institute. “The knowledge gained from these sorts of models advances the field of HIV vaccine development and the field of immunology more broadly. We are excited about the recognition and support of this research.”