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World AIDS Day Symposium at UR Highlights Research Efforts to Develop Vaccine

Graduate students at URMC display their research findings at a symposium on World AIDS Day.
Veronica Volk
Graduate students at URMC display their research findings at a symposium on World AIDS Day.

Several buildings across Rochester will be lit red in honor of World AIDS Day, including City Hall and the Xerox Tower.

It's part of an awareness campaign co-sponsored by the University of Rochester Center for AIDS Research, where scientists are working toward eradicating the disease.

Finding an effective vaccine for HIV/AIDS has so far been next to impossible. The virus is constantly evolving, and its most vulnerable elements are hidden behind a protective shield of sugar coating. A consortium of health organizations, including researchers at URMC, are engaging in the early stages of clinical trials they say look promising.

Steve Dewhurst is the Director of the Center for AIDS Research. He says they've identified a number of antibodies that can block the HIV virus.

"So they're taking one of those antibodies and they're testing, in people, whether it's capable of preventing HIV infection. If it is, it gives you a road map for what you might want to do to make a vaccine. You'd make something that elicits those same kinds of antibodies."

Dewhurst says Rochester has one of the highest participation rates in the country when it comes to these kinds of trials, which he hopes will steer us toward an effective vaccine faster.

Rochester also has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the state, just behind New York City.

Governor Cuomo says he wants to eradicate the virus state-wide by 2020, and Dewhurst says he thinks it's possible -- on one condition. He says the public needs to continue to be educated so they will get tested, get treatment, and help stop the spread of the virus.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.