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AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which is caused by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). This virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. Infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. An estimated 33.4 million individuals are living with HIV and 2 million people died in 2008 as a result of infection with HIV worldwide.
Infection with HIV often causes no symptoms for years and may be detectable only with an HIV test. The virus commandeers and disarms immune cells of the people it infects. Over time, the immune system is unable to function properly. This advanced stage of disease, termed AIDS, leaves a person vulnerable to multiple life-threatening viral, fungal, bacterial and parasitic infections. Many secondary infectious diseases threaten and kill people with AIDS. There is no cure for AIDS, and therefore immediate medical care is critical. Current treatments have lengthened lives, but most victims are unable to gain access to or afford the latest therapies, and viral drug resistance is a growing reality
Seattle BioMed’s Role
To prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, the United Nations and the National Institutes of Health named vaccine research and development a top priority. Assuming a leadership role in HIV/AIDS vaccine development, Seattle BioMed established the Viral Vaccines Program in 2001. Our HIV/AIDS researchers are experts in neutralizing antibodies (NAbs), which are antibodies that block HIV infection. These antibodies bind to the surface of HIV and prevent it from attaching itself to a cell and infecting it. NAbs are one of several types of anti-HIV immune responses that an effective vaccine against HIV will elicit.