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Winter 1999

The Scientist and the Cure
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When the participants in her study learned the news, they, perhaps better than anyone else, understood what it meant. "The men who are HIV-infected were so supportive, so concerned," recalls Giorgi, a thoughtful woman with deep brown eyes and fair skin. "It gives you a sense of what it must be like for people who have this problem that they can't get rid of."

Giorgi is now in remission. Her greatest daily struggle is with fatigue. "All I want to do is go home and sleep," she says with a laugh one afternoon while standing in a hallway near her office.

She is philosophical about how the disease has changed her, brushing off suggestions that she is stoic. "Everyone has difficulties in their lives," she says. "I guess the reason we care so much about people when they have an illness is it gives us strength in how to deal with life. Duane says I'm happier than I've ever been. Maybe I've learned that you don't have to worry all the time in order to live.

These days Giorgi spends more time on leisure -- learning to fly fish, seeing paintings she's longed to see, chasing life from the back of a Harley. Yet her resolve to help find a way to prevent HIV remains strong.

She may be facing her greatest professional challenge yet. Come January, Giorgi will embark on a landmark vaccine study with Peter Anton, a UCLA gastrointerologist who specializes in treating people with AIDS. The trial -- the first of its kind to be done in humans -- will test a cowpox vaccine combined with non-infectious HIV genes. The vaccine will be inserted in an unusual area -- near the groin -- so that it can travel directly to the lymph nodes, a major site for HIV infection. It's a route that's never been tried. By delivering the vaccine this novel way, Giorgi believes it will stimulate the right cellular immune response. If so, the study could hold far-reaching implications for controlling AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. For the estimated 16,000 people worldwide newly infected with HIV every day. For Giorgi. "It's caught up with our worst expectations about how global the spread will be," she says of the epidemic. "Without a vaccine... ." Her voice trails off.

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