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THE DISCOVERY OF AIDS AND HIV: CONTRIBUTIONS OF CALIFORNIA TO THE EARLY YEARS OF AIDS

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After 25 years of wrestling with one of the world's most frightening health challenges, AIDS, 300 researchers and clinicians gathered September 25 at UC Davis to review and reflect on HIV research.

Among the speakers were researchers from around the world, many hailing from California, where AIDS appeared early in the epidemic. 

INSIGHTS FROM NOBEL PRIZE RECIPIENT

One scientist in particular was poised in the late 1970s to contribute to society's knowledge of the AIDS virus. Keynote speaker Françoise Barré-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute recalled her interest in RNA viruses and immunodeficiency in relation to leukemia and other cancers, including feline leukemia virus.

When AIDS was identified in France in 1982, she and a colleague began to look for a retrovirus and detected reverse transcriptase in lymph node cells. "We were few. But we were ready," she said.

Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 for the discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.

ADVANCES IN RESEARACH

Physician John Ziegler of UC San Francisco reviewed the early history of AIDS and how healthcare workers first began connecting illnesses such as Kaposi's sarcoma with immune deficiency.

Also on the day's agenda were talks about basic research, epidemiology and animal models, including models for vaccines.

Studies at UC Davis of AIDS-like viruses in cats and monkeys provided excellent comparisons to the human virus during the early years. In later research, animal models helped researchers explore transmission between species, the body's immune defenses, and the development of antiviral treatments.
 
POSITIVE CHANGES IN GLOBAL HEALTH

In addition to commemorating the history of HIV research and the intertwined careers of scientists and clinicians--including several collaborations at UC Davis--speakers described several positive changes to today's science and medicine because of HIV.

Ziegler reminded the audience that AIDS "brought together different disciplines theretofore not usually in communication" for the first time and marked a new theme in science of integrated research. He added that AIDS activism has helped bring attention to social and economic issues, and he stated that the disease "put Africa on the map for AIDS and other health issues now being addressed."

Barré-Sinoussi cited projects in Africa, Cambodia and Viet Nam as global health improvements that have emerged from fighting HIV and that now benefit countries with limited resources.

STILL ON THE TRAIL FOR A CURE

Not surprisingly, participants brought up the need for more research, particularly vaccine studies. Though the results of a vaccine trial in Thailand announced last week are a step in the right direction, the quest for a cure remains a challenge.

A representative of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Herb Schultz , spoke briefly to the scientists, saying that HIV is an important issue to the governor.

Schultz explained that was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, but that modern treatment has reduced the virus in his system to a nearly undetectable level. For this success, he thanked the participants. "AIDS is no longer a death sentence. I'm here--and millions like me--because you are here."  

The event took place at the Center for Comparative Medicine, a collaborative research unit of the School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine dedicated to studying diseases that affect both humans and animals.