HIV Research: A Long View on a Small Virus

UCSF's Jay Levy Reflects on AIDS Epidemic

By Jason Bardi | July 11, 2012

Jay Levy, MD, who co-discovered HIV in 1983, will be among the UCSF contingent of AIDS experts to participate in the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. later this month.

 

Halfway down a long corridor in the middle of UCSF Medical Center, a white-coated Jay Levy, MD, paused recently to reflect on HIV — a disease that has defined a generation, continues to plague the world and may yet be vanquished.

To Levy, who co-discovered HIV in 1983, the question is not how far we have come — it's how far we have to go. In his laboratory, he and his colleagues continue to uncover the biological mysteries of the virus, currently exploring how to use stem cell approaches to cure HIV infections and looking for the secrets of natural immunity to the virus.

He offered his perspective on AIDS on the eve of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., where he and dozens of UCSF faculty will discuss the latest developments on the epidemic with tens of thousands of colleagues and other attendees from around the world. Faculty at UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center are global leader in AIDS research and have been at the forefront of confronting the epidemic since its onset 30 years ago. They continue to set the standard of care for people with HIV worldwide.

HIV research is a field, Levy said, in which scientists traditionally have worked hard for long stretches without finding immediate answers. The experience for Levy, who joined the Department of Medicine and the Cancer Research Institute at UCSF in 1972, has been both rewarding and frustrating. Today, scientists still have many fundamental and unanswered questions about how it interacts with the immune system.

“When they asked me 20 years ago where are we in our knowledge of the immune system, I said: ‘2nd grade,’” Levy recalled. “Perhaps now we’re in 5th grade — we’ve got a lot to do.”

 

The Roads Behind and Ahead for HIV
Levy remembers the day in August 1981 when Paul Volberding, MD, now the director of the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF, called his lab and asked for his advice about a mysterious condition he’d seen in a patient.

“We didn’t know what was happening in the community. At the time we thought this was a rare event,” said Levy.

Jay Levy, MD

Jay Levy, MD

“We didn’t know what was happening in the community. At the time we thought this was a rare event,” said Levy.

 

This patient was one of the first and then one of many in San Francisco who would develop AIDS. As the epidemic exploded in San Francisco over the coming years, it would affect some 20,000 lives in the city and tens of millions more worldwide.

 

He and his colleagues, in what is now called This patient was one of the first and then one of many in San Francisco who would develop AIDS. As the epidemic exploded in San Francisco over the coming years, it would affect some 20,000 lives in the city and tens of millions more worldwide.

 

Read more at Jason Bardi