AIDS Experts Explain Why We Still Don’t Have An HIV Vaccine

In 1981, James Curran and his team of scientists from the Center of Disease Control investigated a particular type of pneumonia which seemingly circulated among homosexual men in New York City and Los Angeles. Little did they know that they were about to discover one of the deadliest diseases in existence, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Since then, scientists and doctors have worked endlessly together to put a stop to the disease. Although progress is ongoing, it has also been very slow and unsteady. In the early 80s, when AIDS was gaining worldwide notoriety, people assumed that a vaccine will be released in no time. Unfortunately, until now, scientists still haven’t perfected a proper treatment for the deadly disease.

James Curran recently visited Reddit’s /r/science to answer some of the most pressing questions about AIDS, and the current progress of the research to stifle the fatal disease. He is joined by another AIDS expert, Dr. Carlos del Rio. Here are some of the most intriguing questions answered.

Redditor rebelyis inquired about why we still don’t have a vaccine against AIDS.

“When aids was first discovered, scientists thought a vaccine would be out in no time. Why were they wrong? What Is so different about aids? [sic]”

Dr. del Rio answered, “Developing an HIV vaccine is the most complex scientific challenge we have faced. There are many issues that are unresolved, there is no evidence that a human can develop protective immunity to HIV, we do not understand well what a vaccine would need to do to provide protection, finally the HIV virus attacks the immune system. These are some of the challenges but, at the same time, we have some of the smartest people working on developing a vaccine”

Redditor SirT6 wrote, “The 1980s-the early 1990s was a scary time for many gay men in America. AIDS was devastating the community, the cause was unknown, and at times the government seemed actively opposed to trying to do anything to help. My understanding is that it was clear to you (and most in the scientific community) rather early on that AIDS stemmed from an infectious pathogen. I was wondering then, how did you react when prominent members of the scientific community (Peter Duesberg, most notably) argued that HIV is a harmless passenger virus and that anti-retroviral therapy is toxic, even a cause of AIDS? Were you surprised by this denialism, presumably from people who should know better?”

Dr. Curran answered, “In the first decade following the discovery, denial, ignorance, and misinformation was common. A small number of people in the sci. community or public like Dr. Duesberg took the misinformation to a very high level. Dr. Duesberg was an accomplished basic science cancer researcher who received little recognition outside his narrow scientific community until he began to seriously question the cause of AIDS. Despite the vast amount of data and armies of scientists (some of whom his colleagues) who disagreed with him, he received great notoriety and public attention for his views. It is difficult to know whether he truly believed them or enjoyed the limelight.”

Read the rest of the AMA here.

For more information on AIDS, watch the video below.

[Image from David McNew/Getty Images]