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July 2006 Issue

Evelyn Hess, MD, in her lab.
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25 Years Later Cincinnati Is Still a Major Player in AIDS Research

Published July 2006

Editorís Note: In recognition of the 25th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic, we invited Evelyn Hess, MD, professor of medicine and head of the first AIDS Task Force in Cincinnati, to look back on two decades of AIDS discovery and research at UC and in the local community.

Physicians locally and around the world read with great interest the account published in a medical journal in 1981 of the first four U.S. patients with AIDS in Los Angeles.

It was the beginning of a chain of events that would lead to Cincinnati becoming a major player in the international effort to prevent and cure this dreadful disease.

Over the next year or two, faculty and staff of the UC infectious diseases division were the first to diagnose and treat local patients with AIDS, and it quickly became clear that mortality would be high.

At that time, the infectious agent had not yet been identified. It was clear, however, that this disorder involved both infection and changes in the immune system.

UCís rheumatology/immunology group began to see many young men who had various types of rheumatic disease. Working with an AIDS expert in New York, Alvin Friedman-Kien, MD, we first described these disorders in 1984. Over the next six years, we published eight papers on the strange immune and rheumatic disorders occurring in AIDS patients.

As we realized the importance of AIDS, the Greater Cincinnati AIDS Task Force was established in 1982. Later, through our influence, the Ohio Senate founded a statewide AIDS Task Force.

Soon, this region had a well-organized response to AIDS with the founding of the Greater Cincinnati AIDS Consortium, the AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati and the AIDS patient home, now the well-known CARACOLE.

By 1990, U.S. and French investigators had determined the causative organism, the human immunodeficiency virus. The Greater Cincinnati AIDS Task Force worked on details of a regional HIV/AIDS plan, which was implemented in December 1990. Many states followed suit. Ohio was one of the first to get involved, and its 1997 HIV Prevention Plan remains active.

Today the HIV and AIDS program at UC is well-established, well-staffed and responsible for considerable research into this challenging disorder. As a result, nearly every aspect of HIV and AIDS is much more hopeful.

While we have developed many new experimental and accepted treatments, researchers worldwide remain concentrated on finding a cure for the virus and its effect on the immune system, and, we hope, a preventive vaccine.

Many of these significant studies will be undertaken here in Cincinnati at the Infectious Disease Center.

In short, Greater Cincinnati has played a major and important role in this disastrous disorder. Needless to say, on behalf of all the patients and families, we hope it will be possible in the future to prevent HIV/AIDS and to have much more effective treatments.

We at the UC Academic Health Center are committed to that.

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