December 1, 2018

The theme for the 2018 World AIDS Day (December 1) is “Saving Lives through Leadership and Partnerships,” which closely aligns with National Primate Research Center (NPRC) efforts to improve therapies to treat people who are living with HIV/AIDS and to develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against all strains of the virus.

For more than 30 years, the NPRCs have led the way toward understanding and fighting HIV. The virus infects and kills millions globally; just last year, approx. 36.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV, and the death toll from AIDS-related illnesses had reached 940,000.

HIV treatments have come a long way since the disease turned pandemic and poured into the public consciousness in the mid-1980s. Today, because of the antiretroviral drug cocktails available to treat the virus, HIV is no longer a death sentence in most developed countries. Yet the hunt for better treatments and a vaccine continues.

One potential treatment making headlines involves broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (bNAbs). These antibodies are isolated from individuals who have the rare ability to neutralize a majority of evolutionarily diverse HIV-1 field isolates after years of chronic infection.

NPRC scientists are part of multiple large research collaborations working on moving these bNAbs from research labs to doctors’ offices. To achieve this, the scientists have extracted these special antibodies from human blood, grown them in lab dishes and infused them into monkeys that have simian immunodeficiency virus, or SHIV, a chimeric version of the AIDS virus.

Based on the encouraging results of the monkeys being able to control their viral loads, researchers are moving bNAbs into human clinical trials. If successful, the treatment could mean fewer lifelong medications for people with HIV. This is exciting news for the scientists who have devoted decades of basic research to gain understanding of this complex, insidious and ever-shifting virus.

The NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP), which supports the NPRCs, and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have been leading supporters of animal-based AIDS research, thus making possible the NPRCs’ research involving hundreds of dedicated scientists, veterinarians, animal care personnel, technicians, students and more.

On World AIDS Day today, the NPRCs express our support for people who are living with HIV, remember those who have died from an AIDS-related illness and thank our employees for their commitment that is bringing us closer to the day when the HIV/AIDS global health challenge is a distant memory.

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