June 25, 2024


University Biology Professor Venigalla Rao looks at some of humanity’s great medical challenges – including cancer, HIV, and COVID-19 –  with a determination to find answers through the University’s Bacteriophage Medical Research Center, which he founded three years ago.

The Federal Government believes in Rao’s work as well and has awarded him a multi-year, $5 million National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV and Substance Use Disorder Research grant. The NIDA award supports innovative and creative scientists who propose high-impact research that will open new areas of HIV research and lead to potentially transformation avenues for the prevention and treatment of HIV among people who use drugs. 

Rao’s gene therapy technology developed on campus could open the doors to healing and curing a variety of ailments and was spotlighted last year in the international scientific journal, Nature Communications.

“It’s a great honor for me and for the Catholic University of America to have received this award,” Rao said. Nearly 40 million people have HIV globally, and if Rao’s research on stem cells succeeds, he believes it could potentially lead to a cure for HIV and other genetic diseases. 

“If we can repair the stem cells, then those repaired stem cells will repopulate the body,” Rao said. “The current HIV genetic disease will eventually be eliminated. The people don't have to take any drugs, and they will be HIV resistant for future infections.”

Rao has received numerous research awards from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and holds 24 U.S. and international patents. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Rao’s unquestionable ambition as a researcher is tempered by his humility.

“I have no illusion that it will be an easy path to success,” Rao said. “I might fail. Nevertheless, if you don’t try, you will definitely fail. I think we have a plausible path. We have to work really hard, be very creative, build the right teams, work with the right people, and bring our resources. So I’m willing to do that.”