A Look Back At 30 Years Of AIDS Research

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A look back at the milestones in the 30 year battle against AIDS

It's been thirty years since the first sign of AIDS, and the battle is still raging on. Although many advances have been made, the disease is still alive and well. The first cases took the healthcare industry by storm and left them scrambling to understand the disease and find the appropriate treatment.

Let's take a look back at the milestones in this battle:

  • June 1981 – The first reports out of Los Angeles stated that 5 young, homosexual men had all been diagnosed with pneumonia. Although no one could have guessed that these were the first AIDS cases, they definitely raised some eyebrows in the medical community.

  • July 1981 – The New York Times ran an article about a rare skin cancer, called Kaposi's sarcoma that had been diagnosed in 41 homosexual men in New York and California. Doctors were unsure as to what had caused the infection and couldn't see any signs of contagion. Eventually the doctors found that the condition was caused by a compromised immune system and that it was a sexually transmitted infection. For the larger part of the year, doctors assumed the infection wouldn't effect non-homosexuals.

  • 1982 – In May of 1982, the infection named GRID was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. Medical professionals aren't comfortable with the name, Gay Related Immune Disorder. They fear that they are only seeing the beginning as more people start showing symptoms. Many of the people infected are not gay, and the first wave of patients who are IV drug users appear. By September, the CDC defines the disease as AIDS.

  • December 1982 – The CDC reported that infants have contracted the disease after blood transfusions. This is the first time that it was speculated that the disease was contracted by blood and wasn't caused by homosexual contact or drug use.

  • May 1983 – French researchers managed to isolate the AIDS virus and map the molecular structure. This allowed researchers to study and classify the disease as a T-lymphotropic retrovirus.

  • 1985 – The FDA approves the first blood test to detect the AIDS virus. Although it was used primarily to remove infected blood from blood banks, many doctors started using the test to diagnose patients. Many people wanted to be tested, to ensure that they weren't passing the virus along to others, but there was a great deal of controversy about how such tests should be administered.

  • March 1987 – The drug AZT was approved by the FDA as the first drug to treat the virus. The drug quickly went into trials and the approval process was expedited. Although the drug slowed the progression of the disease, it didn't cure it. By 1994, AZT was proven to severely limit the risk of passing along the virus from mother to child.

  • 1994 – Researcher start to notice that some of the people who are infected with HIV never have developed AIDS. Scientists start to study the patients blood and tissue samples to determine what sort of immunities or other factors as a way to find more effective treatments for the disease.

  • 1995 – An AIDS patient participates in an experiment to try to get rid of the virus. He undergoes a bone marrow transplant using baboon marrow, hoping that the natural protection that primates have against the disease could help find a cure. His body rejects the baboon marrow and he dies of AIDS related complications shortly thereafter. This opens up new research possibilities.

  • 1995 – The FDA approves a new drug to combat HIV and AIDS. These protease inhibitors were offered for free and showed promise of stopping the virus as it progresses through the body. It had few side effects and did a better job of reducing the viral load in HIV patients. It seemed as though the drug held a great deal of promise. Complications came when patients became resistant to the drug very quickly.

  • 1996 – AIDS researchers, Dr. David Ho and Dr. George Shaw prove that the HIV virus replicated aggressively from the beginning of the infection. They recommend a triple drug cocktail, combining the new protease inhibitors, AZT and 3TC, a drug that helps prevent drug resistance. This “AIDS Cocktail” reduces the rates of death and hospitalization in HIV and AIDS patients by 60 to 80 percent.

  • 2008 – The first patient ever was cured of AIDS. Timothy Brown received a bone marrow transplant in addition to other medical treatments. His viral load decreased to an undetectable level. 4 years after he stopped taking the AIDS cocktail, he still has no trace of the virus.

  • 2008 – The scientists who isolated the AIDS virus received the Nobel Prize.

  • 2010 – Researchers have come up with a vaginal gel that can prevent the transmission of the HIV virus by almost 50 percent. This break-though was designed to help women protect themselves, because condom use and abstinence requires the co-operation of their partner. The gel is given to women in areas of Africa where the HIV rates are highest.

The search for a cure for HIV is still ongoing. This disease has ravaged every culture, every country in the world. It isn't just a “gay disease”, as was originally thought. In fact, this virus took the world by storm and sent medical professionals to understand the disease and learn how to prevent it.

I can only hope that the next 10 years will bring even more progress.

What do you think about the history of this disease? Let me know in the comments.

By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer for HealthcareJobsiteBlog. Along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.

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