The Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) was established 20 years ago to help combat HIV/AIDS at the epicenter of the epidemic. At the time, about 37% of pregnant women in Botswana were infected with HIV. Dr. Joseph Makhema was a young physician working what seemed like unending hours at the public hospital in Gaborone, where effective treatment was not yet available. Today, Dr. Makhema is the CEO of the Institute he played an important role in establishing. Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, spoke with him about the BHP’s history and future. Continue reading
Her life has been anything but linear. Born in Beijing, Amy Wu grew up in Oregon, performed as a concert pianist in her teens, majored in biochemistry at Harvard, conducted HIV research in China and Botswana, and now works 80-hour weeks as a vice president at a tech startup. She also serves on HAI’s International Advisory Council.
Martha Henry, Executive Director of HAI, reached Amy by phone in a conference room in Manhattan.
You were one of the first Harvard undergrads to spend a semester in Botswana conducting HIV research. Almost ten years later, how do you view that experience?
One Step Closer to Affordable HIV Drug–Resistance Test
Harvard recently entered into a licensing agreement with Aldatu Biosciences for exclusive use of the PANDAA technology. Using PANDAA, Aldatu, a biotech start-up based at LabCentral in Cambridge, is developing a rapid HIV drug-resistance test for patients failing first-line antiretroviral therapy (ART).
By Scott Dryden-Peterson
The 2000 International AIDS Conference in Durban was a watershed moment. Prevailing opinion turned from thinking that it was impossible to treat AIDS in Africa to believing that it was impossible and immoral not to try. Nelson Mandela, who had stepped down as president of South Africa in 1999, closed the meeting. “Let us not equivocate. A tragedy of unprecedented proportion is unfolding in Africa,” he said. “Let us combine our efforts to ensure a future for our children. The challenge is no less.”
One tiny vial of blood contains a remarkable amount of genetic information about both the person from whom it was drawn and infectious agents like HIV circulating at the time of the needle prick. Because HIV mutates so quickly, having access to lots of samples to study is a valuable resource. “It’s a diamond for science,” said Sikhulile Moyo, Laboratory Manager at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP). He was referring to the blood samples banked in the BHP freezers. “Specimens would be a more accurate term,” he corrected, “biological samples freely given to be processed for diagnosis or disease monitoring.”
“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay!”
~ Sherlock Holmes
Science depends on data. A large clinical trial like the Botswana Combination Prevention Project (BCPP) depends on lots of data. When the multi-year trial in 30 Botswana villages concludes, researchers hope their data will provide a better understanding of how to prevent HIV infections. Continue reading
Max Essex gave the keynote address to the graduating class of 60 physicians at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine on Friday, May 6, 2016 in Huntington, West Virginia. Essex, the Lasker Professor of Health Sciences at Harvard, is a noted AIDS researcher and Chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever meet anyone more focused than Max Essex. A 1986 New York Times profile described him as “mild mannered” with “a thatch of thick hair” and “among those in the forefront of the worldwide effort to find a cure for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.” Today, though his hair is white, that description still fits. Essex, now in his 70s, still arrives at the office by six o’clock most mornings and spends long days planning and improving research projects around the world. He remains, as the Times reporter described, “deeply exercised about the fate of AIDS patients.”
The end of AIDS as a public health threat may not come from an effective vaccine, as many had hoped for decades, but from a collaborative effort across nations to prevent new HIV infections. The epidemic that spread mainly through sexual connections may be subdued not from a single breakthrough, but through long-term transnational collaborations. Continue reading