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Students learned about a quick HIV antibody rest and multi-drug regimens for treating HIV/AIDS during demonstrations by Bruce Walker and Bisola Ojikutu (far right).
Walker noted that some individuals—about 1 in 300 infected people—have immune systems that keep the virus at very low, sometimes-undetectable levels. “They seem to be living with HIV without it causing disease,” he said. Walker's research group is working to discern the genetic makeup of such individuals to get clues about new treatment approaches and vaccines.
In two discussion sessions following the lectures, one focusing on HIV/AIDS research opportunities outside the United States and the other on patient advocacy, panelists expressed concerns that the developed world has become complacent about the epidemic. And they emphasized the need to fight HIV not only through scientific advances but also by preventing HIV infection in the first place. This means educating people to make good choices—whether being abstinent, using safer-sex practices, or getting tested.
Panelist Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, based in Los Angeles, challenged the students to get involved in the fight against HIV by wearing T-shirts, provided by his organization, emblazoned with “Got AIDS?” on the front and “How do you know?” on the back. “To stop this epidemic,” he said, “you need to get informed, get tested, seek treatment or advocate for access to treatment, and get involved.”
“This is a tremendous problem we are facing,” added Walker. “And it's your generation that is going to be called upon to answer the many [still-unanswered] questions.”
Thabethe—one of the fortunate few in KwaZulu-Natal to have had access to the cocktail of drugs that virtually cleared the AIDS wards in the developed world when they were first made available in 1996—sees a silver lining to HIV because it has forced tremendous advances in science worldwide and in healthcare in her native South Africa. For her own silver lining, HIV obliged her, she said, to “redesign my life in a positive way and do all the good that I can.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The 2007 Holiday Lectures on Science can be viewed at www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/lectures. Free DVDs of the lectures, with resources for teachers added, will be available through the HHMI catalog in spring 2008.
Photo: Paul Fetters