Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Doctor, Doctor: Two Amazing Minds Take on Two Deadly Diseases. David Ho and Susan Love Are Working to Rid the World of Aids and Breast Cancer

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Doctor, Doctor: Two Amazing Minds Take on Two Deadly Diseases. David Ho and Susan Love Are Working to Rid the World of Aids and Breast Cancer

Article excerpt


David Ho developed HIV cocktail therapy, which was introduced in the mid 1990s and has since made AIDS a chronic but manageable illness for many. Now he's focused on finding a vaccine. One-on-one with an AIDS pioneer.

OF THE COUNTLESS RESEARCHERS who've played a role in advancing the understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS since 1981, Taiwan-born David Ho, 54, stands out. In the 1990s his lab at New York City's Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, which Ho helped found, yielded pioneering insights into the years-long battle waged between HIV and the human body's immune system. The results led to the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), also known as "cocktail" therapy. The breakthrough earned Ho Time magazine's Man of the Year honor in 1996. He spoke to The Advocate by phone en route to the airport for a two-week trip to Taiwan, where he was scheduled to teach at a science camp for Chinese students.

You live in Chappaqua, the posh New York City suburb where the Clintons live--and you've traveled to China on AIDS summit trips with Bill. Are you rooting for Hillary in '08?

I'm a little up in the air. I'm an independent, but I'm certainly not voting for the Republican side. I think I'm leaning toward Obama--but [New York City mayor] Bloomberg might be a possibility if he runs.

Who's the best candidate on AIDS issues?

I don't know. Actually, Bush has done a lot better than I expected he would, especially with the programs abroad. Of course, many of them are abstinence-only programs that tie the hands of prevention workers, and that's not helpful. But he's committed a lot of funding.

Bring us up to date on your own research.

It's been focused almost entirely on AIDS vaccine development the past five or six years. Two of our vaccines are in early trials. Both of them inject five HIV genes to make proteins that will stimulate the immune system [to recognize and fight HIV].

Most vaccines tried to date haven't been able to engage both "arms" of the immune system--recognizing and fighting HIV--which is crucial. Will yours?

We think so. In patient samples in the labs we're seeing more of that reactivity.

What else excites you today in AIDS research?

Probably some of the basic research [on how the virus works]. We've learned that every cell in our body contains the ability to counter retroviruses [like HIV], even though HIV has figured out a way to fight back with a protein called Vif. So if we could develop a drug to inactivate Vif, we'd have a new class of anti-HIV drugs.

In the early 1980s, your colleagues would joke that you were always looking for gay men, meaning that you were trying to understand this new disease affecting them. Were you comfortable working with gays?

I trained in internal medicine in West Hollywood, so I had a large proportion of patients who were gay men even before AIDS, especially because I was already quite interested in infectious disease and there was a lot of hepatitis B and other STDs in that community.


Were you homophobic?

I was always very comfortable with gay men. I was even comfortable with my colleagues joking that I was always looking for them. Those early years were very emotional. Many of the patients dying then were the same age I was, and they were dying of mysterious infections of the brain, the retina, and the gut. It was not a dignified end, and, of course, the mystery added to the stigma and discrimination. We took care of a lot of patients who were shunned by family and friends.

Did you ever have a meltdown or feel like you were burning out?

No. Despite all the personal tragedies, the scientific part was interesting and fascinating and rapidly evolving. That's the part that kept me going.

Do you remember any of your patients particularly? …

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