WITH MORE THAN 150 SCIENTISTS ENGAGED IN AIDS RESEARCH AT UCLA, the battle against the disease continues on many fronts: on testing a vaccine in humans that has shown promise in protecting monkeys against HIV; on improving treatment by using new approaches such as immune-based therapies; on testing newer agents that may be more potent than current drugs.
"I would expect that over the next few years, we will see development of drugs that target HIV-specific genes," says Irvin Chen, director of UCLA's AIDS Institute. "At this point, we really don't understand how the immune system deals with other viral infections, so as we acquire more knowledge about our body's immune system, that will help us to make more rational decisions about what sort of vaccine might be most effective, rather than just shooting in the dark."
Yet not all the news is good. While the rate of people dying from AIDS has declined dramatically in recent years, the rate of HIV infection is increasing. Despite years of research and campaigns aimed at education and prevention, women and adolescents and African Americans and Latinos are getting the virus in alarming numbers. So are young gay men. For the researchers and physicians working on AIDS, it is sad evidence that they are far from vanquishing this scourge.
"The HIV epidemic continues," says Ronald Mitsuyasu, co-director of UCLA's Center for Clinical AIDS Research and Education. "That people are continuing to engage in high-risk behaviors, despite the fact that it's been known almost since the beginning why people get infected, is worrisome. It's younger people who have not yet seen their friends die of AIDS. There's this idea that because our treatments have been increasingly effective, the risk of dying is not very great.
"It's extremely frustrating."