Archived News


September 15, 2009

University of California, Davis
September 15, 2009

More than 300 scientists, health care professionals and students are expected to gather Friday, Sept. 25, at the University of California, Davis, to commemorate the significant role that California played in the early years of research on AIDS and human immunodeficiency virus.


The free, public event will look back over the more than 25 years that have passed since HIV was discovered as the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. It will have a special focus on the contributions made by California researchers, physicians, public officials, community groups and foundations.

Nobel Prize Winner to Speak

Keynote speaker will be Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with fellow virologist Luc Montagnier for their discovery of HIV.

Also participating will be Willie Brown, who in the early days of the epidemic played a critical role in securing research funding for AIDS while serving as speaker of the California State Assembly.

The daylong event, including a series of nontechnical presentations, will be held at UC Davis' Center for Comparative Medicine on County Road 98, west of the central campus. Speakers will discuss topics related to AIDS diagnostic and treatment efforts, epidemiology, animal models, basic research and future research directions. A
complete program and registration for the day are online at: <>.

California and AIDS

AIDS was first recognized as a new disease in 1981, and the first research papers on the disease appeared in scientific journals in 1983.

Scientists, physicians and policymakers around the world joined forces to tackle the mysterious new disease. The intensity of the epidemic in California's largest cities catalyzed a particularly collaborative response to the outbreak, recalled Murray Gardner, a UC Davis professor emeritus of medical pathology and an authority on
immunodeficiency viruses in humans and monkeys.

"The 1980s were a time of fear and hysteria as the AIDS epidemic spread," Gardner said. "San Francisco was really the epicenter of the epidemic, with Los Angeles also a major focal point."

Many medical centers throughout the state, including the University of California's five centers at UCLA, UC San Francisco, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Davis, were at the forefront in caring for HIV-infected patients and initiating basic and clinical research programs on AIDS.

One of UC Davis' most important contributions to the AIDS research effort was focused on AIDS-like viruses in monkeys and cats, providing invaluable comparisons to the virus in humans.

During the 1980s and 1990s, UC Davis scientists further explored the natural history of the AIDS viruses that affect humans, monkeys and cats, including how such viruses might be transmitted from one animal species to another. They also studied the feasibility of developing an AIDS vaccine; the mechanisms that allow the viruses, particularly
feline AIDS, to be transmitted; and how the body's own antibodies and immune systems fight these viruses. Several novel antiviral treatments also were developed in these animal models.

Today, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 33 million people around the world are living with AIDS. It is estimated that each year HIV newly infects more than 2.7 million people and more than 2 million people die of AIDS.

Future AIDS research

California-based researchers and others are continuing their efforts through clinical trials, studies of viral immunity based in the body's mucous membranes, and studies of the impact of AIDS on women and minorities.

"Although HIV has been identified and effective drugs discovered to extend the length and quality of life for people infected with the virus, AIDS remains a complex problem that is still evolving," said Paul Luciw, a UC Davis molecular virologist who studies AIDS-related animal viruses.

He noted that there are now 25 to 30 drugs approved for treating HIV, but resistance and toxicity are still problems with all of them.

"We still need better drug regimens and, of course, a vaccine to prevent HIV. And we still need a cure," Luciw said.

Gardner and Luciw noted that the new generation of AIDS researchers can learn from both the achievements and challenges of the scientists who came before.

"They will need to continue the spirit of collaboration, building consortiums of both private and public laboratories and institutions," Gardner said. "And they will need to be more aware of the international issues that impact AIDS."

The upcoming commemorative event, funded by private donors, is coordinated by UC Davis' Center for Comparative Medicine. The center is a collaborative research unit of the School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine and is dedicated to studying diseases that affect both humans and animals.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers
interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from six professional schools -- Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore
School of Nursing.

Media contacts:
* Paul Luciw, Center for Comparative Medicine, (530) 752-3430,
* Murray Gardner, Center for Comparative Medicine, (530) 752-1245,
* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,