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The National Institutes of Health has awarded an $8 million grant to the University of Pittsburgh to study an antiviral gel that has shown promise as a microbicide that may block HIV infections, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The compound, called UC781, also has been shown in lab tests to be effective in preventing infections by most other sexually transmitted diseases. The grant is the fourth to be granted by NIH agencies for the development of an HIV microbicide. UC781 is an experimental nonnucleoside reverse transcription inhibitor that works in a microbicide gel by binding tightly to copies of HIV and preventing them from entering human immune cells. Senior investigator Sharon Hilier said human testing to determine the safety of a gel formulation of UC781 is expected to begin before the end of the year. Additional clinical trials will be conducted in conjunction with the HIV Prevention Trial Network. "We hope to have an effective microbicide that can protect women against HIV in the next seven to eight years," Hilier said.