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AIDS: Countdown to a Cure by 2020

From the Show: Staying Well
Summary: There's never been a more optimistic time for finding the cure for AIDS.
Air Date: 5/19/14
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Rowena Johnston, PhD
Rowena JohnstonAs vice president and director of research at amfAR, Rowena Johnston is responsible for overseeing the Foundation's pioneering research program.

Her responsibilities include determining the Foundation's research priorities, evaluating and analyzing the program's direction, and serving as a liaison between the research committee and other committees.

Dr. Johnston has overseen the reorganization of amfAR's research program in order to target work directed at improving HIV prevention and treatment interventions, support the career development of young HIV/AIDS researchers, and aggressively pursue a cure for HIV.

In 2010 she was instrumental in forming the amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE).

In addition to her Foundation work, Dr. Johnston serves on a number of HIV-related advisory committees and as an ad hoc reviewer for numerous journals and conferences.

She has published several scientific papers, and has been an invited speaker at numerous educational institutions around the country as well as at international conferences. She regularly speaks to the press about emerging research findings.

Dr. Johnston received her Ph.D. in psychology (biopsychology) in 1998 from the University of Michigan. From 1997–1998 she was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of neurology at Emory University, and from 1998–2001, she was a visiting research fellow at the cellular neurology branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore, Maryland.

Prior to joining amfAR in September 2001, Dr. Johnston was scientific advisor at the Michael J. Fox Foundation/Parkinson's Action Network.
AIDS: Countdown to a Cure by 2020
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is the final stage of the HIV disease that causes damage to your immune system.

When you have AIDS, your body's cellular immunity is severely decreased, which lowers your resistance to infection.

You may think that HIV/AIDS is no longer a huge epidemic and that not that many people are suffering from this disease. However, according to the AIDS website, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with the HIV infection, and 1 in 6 people are unaware of their infection.

In the past few years, there have been several breaks in research that hold a promising hope that the cure for AIDS can and will be found.

Why does amfAR believe a cure for HIV/AIDS is feasible by the year 2020?

Remember the Berlin patient? His real name is Timothy Brown, and he was thought to be the first and only person to be cured of HIV. He was diagnosed in 1995 and aggressively controlled the virus for several years by using anti-retroviral therapy.

In 2007, things took a turn for the worse when Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and had a stem cell transplant. Brown's chemotherapy failed but his doctors went with an unrelated donor who screened positive for homozygous mutation, CCR5∆32.

Four years after that transplant, Brown is free from cancer as well as HIV.

A cure for HIV is possible, and for the first time there is an understanding of the scientific barriers of finding a cure and what researchers need to do to overcome these barriers.

Now, when you hear the word "cure," you may think that the HIV/AIDS is no longer found in that patient's body. However, at amfAR, cure means a different thing: if you've been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, were taking anti-retroviral therapy, and now no longer need it or any other medication, you are considered cured. You are living a long and healthy life and not transmitting HIV to anyone else.

What is the countdown to a cure?

Vice president and director of research at amfAR, Rowena Johnston, joins Melanie Cole, MS, to discuss why she believes a cure for AIDS can be reached by 2020 and the steps that are needed to reach that goal.