Can This Man Cure AIDS?

Dr. Louis Picker has a secret weapon to fight back against the growing AIDS epidemic—it involves herpes.
A blood test of AIDS returns a positive reading; for decades millions have died of the virus but now one doctor thinks he may be closer than over to quelling the virus.
12_02_AIDS_01 Source: Tony Bee/Getty

Louis Picker stomped through the house, growled at his dogs, then slumped down at the bottom of the staircase, dejected. “I can’t do it anymore,” the immunologist told his wife.

“Yes, you can,” she said.

“It’s not going to work,” he said.

“It’s going to work,” she replied. “It’s going to work.”

Picker has had this conversation with his wife, Belinda Beresford, several times, because after 30 years of immunology research, the 59-year-old is on the verge of launching human trials for a vaccine that could stop AIDS, an epidemic that has become something of an afterthought decades after it began ravaging gay men in America. For many in the developed world, complacency has set in, largely thanks to a regimen of antiretroviral drugs that allow people with HIV to live long and healthy lives, and decades of failed attempts to develop a vaccine. Much of Picker’s work now involves fighting for grant money in a dwindling pot of research funds to keep his laboratory at Oregon Health & Science University running. To win those grants, he must continually prove that his unorthodox approach to creating a vaccine is probably going to work, which means that he needs a string of victories in the laboratory. “Science has its ups and downs,” he says. “You only get rewarded for the ups.”

Each day’s progress is critical. Picker’s vaccine has shown remarkable results in rhesus macaque monkeys—results that HIV researchers closely watch. “There’s a pretty strong consensus that it’s one of the two or three most promising approaches we have in the field,” says Guido Silvestri, a leading immunologist at Emory University School of Medicine . “This is not just a monkey curiosity.”

Related: HIV patients diagnosed with cancer struggle to

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