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Published On September 21, 2018

CLINICAL RESEARCH

Ending the AIDS Epidemic

Since the early 1980s, AIDS has killed more than 35 million people worldwide. But researchers are determined to find better treatments, cures and preventions that many finally put an end to the epidemic. 

SINCE THE FIRST AIDS PATIENTS arrived at Massachusetts General Hospital in the early 1980s, the disease has killed more than 35 million people worldwide. Some 35 years later, the number of people newly infected with the disease has begun to decline, and now, taking a single daily pill can keep the disease at bay indefinitely.

In the United States, that remarkable advance in treatment has perhaps led to a false sense that HIV/AIDS is no longer a problem here. The reality: Of the 40,000 people diagnosed in 2015, a quarter of those cases had already progressed to AIDS, and fewer than a third of U.S. HIV patients receive care that meets current clinical standards.

Making real progress will require further gains in the lab: new treatments, vaccines and ultimately a cure, as described in the article “An Endgame for an Epidemic.” But it also necessitates improvements in the ways that health care systems deliver these miracles of science in the United States and around the world.

One such ambitious effort began in 2009 with the founding of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. The goal was to bring researchers together from across disciplines and specialties to create an effective HIV vaccine. Generous funding has supported nimble, innovative research, and the close cooperation among collaborating institutions has led to progress in following the mystery of how HIV eludes the immune system.

With a vast range of promising efforts underway in this country and abroad, more breakthroughs—better treatments, cures and prevention—will come. Among the hospital’s collection of historical artifacts is a bottle of what was to become the revolutionary AIDS drug AZT, dating from 1986, when MGH was a site of a clinical trial for the drug. We look forward to the day when AIDS itself—and the story of science’s triumph over it—is relegated to history.