| "The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic has spawned a scientific effort unprecedented in the history of infectious disease research. This effort has merged aspects of clinical research, basic molecular biology, immunology, cell biology, epidemiology, and mathematical modeling in ways that have not been seen before. The ever unfolding discoveries of novel aspects of HIV-host interaction have been accompanied by (and often have resulted from) novel interactions among researchers in the disparate disciplines." |
In the late 1970s young homosexual men were dying from rare cancers and pneumonias caused by usually benign microbes. Such conditions, which result from failures of the immune system, became indicators of what is now called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Although the causative virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was identified in 1983, there is still no cure for AIDS. In the years since, HIV has killed millions of men, women, and children from all economic classes, representing every race, from countries around the world. Each day in 2003, 15,000 more individuals became infected and 8,000 died.
HIV remains a major problem for several reasons. The virus has an extraordinarily high mutation rate, such that an infected individual often harbors many variations. This high mutation rate allows HIV to easily evolve resistance to the drugs used to treat it. In addition, cells essential to a strong immune response harbor a virus that can lay latent for years. Thus, the development of treatments and vaccines depends not only on knowledge of the complex life cycle of the virus, but also on understanding the intricate choreography of the immune system. Controlling HIV will require more than the development of medicines and vaccines, however, because poverty and politics exclude millions from treatment.