Across the last three installments of the Preventing the Unpreventable series, we have explored the scientific challenges of working with the HIV virus, a brief history and status update of HIV vaccine research, and the perspectives of HIV vaccine trial participants. In the fourth and final installment of our series, we turn to the future, and to you.

Researchers believe that the scientific community may be within ten years of finding a safe and effective HIV vaccine. They remain optimistic that the recent modest success of the Thai Trial (see Part III) has reinvigorated hope that an HIV vaccine is indeed possible. Though each discovery takes years to develop from initial concept through multiple stages of testing, scientists believe they are at least moving in the right direction.

"[HIV/AIDS] is one of the most tremendous challenges of our generation," said Linsey Baden, M.D., of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

In this way, as the scientific community collaborates in the search for the HIV vaccine, such a tremendous generational challenge also requires the support of communities of all types, around the world. We all must commit to fighting HIV/AIDS. The scientists and trial participants we spoke with all agreed on one thing: all of us have roles to play in the future of HIV vaccine research, even if those roles are not in the lab.

As treatments for the symptoms of HIV and AIDS (called antiretroviral drugs) improve, more and more people are living longer, healthy lives with HIV and AIDS. And with the epidemic seemingly under control, relatively invisible in our local communities, we easily forget the great scale of the problem in the world today. In fact, even at home, more successful treatments suggest that the number of people in the United States living with HIV has slightly increased over time, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

More people are living with HIV than ever before. What can YOU do?

  • Educate yourself. Read information online and look for HIV/AIDS-related articles in the news. Take the extra effort to attend lectures or watch videos. In fact, when the National Institutes of Health funds an HIV vaccine trial, a portion of the budget is specifically allocated toward community education, suggesting the crucial part that the spread of correct, current information plays in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
  • Spread awareness. You can be an advocate simply by sharing your knowledge with others. Tell friends and family that HIV/AIDS is still a problem in the United States and around the world. Collectively, we can create a public consciousness of the need to support HIV prevention research.
  • Participate in a vaccine trial. If you are eligible to participate an interested in supporting the effort this way, visit the HIV Vaccine Trials Network or ask your local hospitals if they are aware of any studies in your area.

Researchers cannot predict the future, but are hopeful that a safe, effective, and universally available vaccine will exist in our lifetime. Scientists will work tirelessly until they find success. And even simply by reading this blog, you support that worldwide endeavor.

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Lindsey R. Baden, M.D., is Director of Infectious Diseases, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Director of Clinical Research, Division Infectious Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital; and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dan H. Barouch, M.D., Ph.D. is the Chief of the Division of Vaccine Research, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Joseph Caputo is a freelance science journalist and recently published "Proud to be an HIV-Vaccine Test Subject" with the Good Men Project. He is also a curriculum developer for a science education company. He is currently a participant in an HIV vaccine study in Boston, MA.

Ken Mayer M.D., is the Medical Research Director and co-chair of the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health.

Benjamin Perkins is an HIV/AIDS activist and Associate Director for Community Engagement at the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health. He was a participant in the second-ever large-scale clinical HIV vaccine trial, the STEP Study which ended early due to complications and inconclusive results.

This is Part Four in the four-part blog series Preventing the Unpreventable: The Search for the HIV Vaccine written by Devon Dickau, who interned at NOVA in the spring of 2011 before graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Education's program in Technology, Innovation and Education.

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