Just as the space program was forming, another historic scientific project began that some would argue had an even greaterimpact: the eradication of smallpox. And just as smallpox once ravaged the globe, so has HIV devastated the people, economy and society of Africa and drastically altered the sexual culture of the Western world and. A cure or vaccine for HIV would no doubt rank as a scientific achievement on par with the eradication of smallpox, and bring about a celebration to rival that which accompanied the moon landing.
Where We Are Now: While there are treatments for HIV, there is currently no cure or vaccine, despite an estimated $870 million spent on the problem this year (the first year that figure has dropped from the year prior). A variety of vaccine candidates have entered into clinical trials, but none have shown any particular promise. The newest vaccine, developed by Merck, uses another virus as a vector for certain key strands of HIV DNA, which the immune system should identify and then fight against.
What Needs To Be Done: Over the last 30 years, HIV has joined influenza as one of the most vexing, mutation-prone viruses known to man. A vaccine for HIV is particularly tricky because HIV attacks the immune system itself, and thus cuts off the benefits of a vaccine as a matter of course.
An additional technical challenge involves developing better animal models. Primates infected with the analogue disease SIV have not proven to be accurate models for medicine and disease spread in humans. And since HIV is so deadly in humans, and since patients who contract the virus face a still-unique set of social challenges, scientists have not been able to use human subjects in the same way they have with other viruses as widespread as HIV.
Overcoming the mutations of the virus, and developing better animal models, would go a long way towards the development of a vaccine.
Chances It Will Occur Within A Decade: Moderate. For decades, people have predicted an HIV vaccine right around the corner, and the virus has made fools of them all. However, advances in genetics and computer modeling have greatly enhanced the development of drugs in general, so a vaccine may be closer than ever before.
And now its your turn. Do you agree with the list? Think we included something that would not cause moon landing-level wonder? Are there any items that we left off that you think are particularly noteworthy? The first human clone? The first computer to become sentient? We are looking forward to hearing what you have to say.single page
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