Statement from the National Institutes of Health on World AIDS Day
NIH Announces First World AIDS Day Awards
December 1 marks World AIDS Day, a time to reflect on how HIV/AIDS has changed our world and an opportunity to recommit our efforts to making a difference. “The Promise of Partnerships,” the theme adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services, reminds us how each of us must play a critical role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, whether as a policymaker, scientist, clinician, volunteer, community advocate, student, teacher, caregiver, person living with HIV infection, family member or friend.
The AIDS pandemic has no boundaries, affecting nearly every country around the globe. Worldwide, an estimated 39.5 million people are living with HIV, including 2.3 million children. In 2006 alone, a staggering 4.3 million people were newly infected. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 95 percent of infected people reside in developing countries.
“HIV/AIDS continues to ravage American communities and societies around the world. NIH has made the largest public investment in AIDS research in the world, and we are committed to leading the biomedical research effort to fight this modern-day plague,” says National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.
The NIH investment in this area of research began 25 years ago, when the first cases of what is now known as AIDS were reported in the United States. NIH supports a comprehensive program of basic, clinical and behavioral research on HIV infection, HIV-associated opportunistic infections, common coinfections, malignancies and other complications. This represents a unique and complex trans-NIH, multidisciplinary global research effort with the ultimate goals of better understanding the basic biology of HIV, developing effective therapies to treat and control HIV disease, and designing interventions to prevent new infections. Coordinated by the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR), the NIH AIDS research program encompasses nearly all of the NIH Institutes and Centers.
An important focus of NIH AIDS research is HIV vaccine development, for which NIH funding more than doubled from $232 million in FY 2000 to $602 million in 2006.
“An HIV vaccine is our best hope for slowing and ultimately ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “With our many partners and collaborators, we are designing and testing numerous novel vaccine approaches that are beginning to show promise.”
This year, NIH launched a new campaign called “Be The Generation,” challenging young Americans to become informed about HIV vaccine research and to support those that volunteer for AIDS vaccine clinical trials. By doing so they can be the generation that ends AIDS through the discovery of a safe and effective preventive HIV vaccine (see www.bethegeneration.org).
While researchers search for a vaccine, scientists also continue to identify new and better drugs that have fewer complications. They are studying how best to use those drugs and finding ways to make taking them more convenient. Drug development remains an important area of research because drug resistance can potentially limit treatment options for people infected with HIV, and long-term antiretroviral treatment can lead to a number of serious clinical complications.
Scientists are also focusing their efforts on developing innovative prevention strategies such as topical microbicides to help reduce the number of new infections. Topical microbicides — creams, gels or other substances designed to allow women to protect themselves against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections — hold great promise as a strategy for preventing future HIV infections and AIDS-related complications.
On World AIDS Day, HHS is launching www.AIDS.gov, the new Internet gateway to federal HIV/AIDS information. It will guide users to information on prevention, testing, treatment and research programs, and to federal HIV/AIDS policies and resources.
NIH World AIDS Day Awards
This year, the OAR and NIAID sponsored a novel employee recognition award, the NIH World AIDS Day Awards. The awards will be given each year to NIH scientists and managers who have made exceptional contributions to the AIDS research efforts at NIH — either for original scientific research or for programmatic support for research. After a highly competitive process, the following individuals received this prestigious new NIH award:
* Edward Berger, Ph.D., of NIAID — for his outstanding achievements, groundbreaking discoveries and innovative and original scientific contributions that have advanced AIDS research. Dr. Berger published a landmark paper using a novel method to discover the first HIV coreceptor [cell surface protein HIV needs, in addition to its primary receptor, to connect to and infect immune cells] (fusin, renamed CXCR4), which directly led his and other groups to identify CCR5 as the other major coreceptor. These studies provided entirely new perspectives for understanding how HIV evolves within the body during initial virus transmission, asymptomatic infection and disease progression. The findings continue to be translated into the development of new antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV-infected people, as well as new strategies for designing vaccines and microbicides to prevent infection.
* A joint award to Robert Yarchoan, M.D. and Hiroaki Mitsuya, M.D., Ph.D. of the National Cancer Institute — for their individual and combined achievements, groundbreaking discoveries and innovative and original scientific contributions that have significantly advanced HIV treatment research. Their landmark clinical studies, demonstrating that AZT could result in partial restoration of the immune response and temporary clinical benefit, established the first treatment for HIV infection and launched the era of effective therapy for HIV/AIDS. Their work significantly advanced this field, directly impacting on the development of new and better strategies to prevent and treat HIV disease in this country and around the world.
* Lynne Mofenson, M.D., of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development — in recognition of her outstanding contributions supporting HIV/AIDS research and programs. Dr. Mofenson’s dedication and unprecedented efforts significantly contributed to the development of safe and effective treatments for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the treatment of maternal and pediatric AIDS in this country and around the world.
“These awards demonstrate the NIH commitment to supporting a multifaceted research effort in HIV/AIDS, with the goal of fostering the best minds to work together to develop new medical tools to stop the devastating effects of the disease around the world,” says Jack Whitescarver, Ph.D., NIH Associate Director for AIDS Research and Director of the OAR.
The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation’s Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
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