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Turning Discovery Into Health


On June 5, 1981, federal health officials reported the first cases of a new and fatal disease. Since then, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, has become one of the deadliest pandemics in history. Today, more than a million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS.

illustration of an antibody attached to an HIV surface protein

An infection-fighting antibody (green) latches onto an HIV surface protein (red). Understanding how antibodies interact with the virus can help scientists identify HIVís weak spots. Photo courtesy of NIAID.

In the late 1980s, the no effective therapies were available. But in 1989, NIH researchers made several major discoveries about how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) destroys the body’s immune system and ultimately leads to full-blown AIDS.

In 1996, NIH-funded scientists discovered a new class of drugs, known as protease inhibitors. When used in combination with other AIDS drugs, these medicines attack HIV in several ways at once, extending the lives of HIV-infected people.

The discovery and development of new drugs have turned HIV infection from a death sentence into a chronic disease for those who have access to, and can tolerate, these powerful medicines.

Today, in the United States, there is less than a 1% chance that a child will become infected by his or her HIV-infected mother if she is taking anti-HIV medicines.

NIH continues a vigorous HIV/AIDS research program to study the basic biology of HIV and related complications, as well as to develop and test new drugs and prevention approaches.

Imagine the Future…

  • New medicines and prevention stem the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world.
  • The ultimate defeat of HIV/AIDS is a toolkit of HIV prevention interventions, including safe, effective, and widely available vaccines, microbicides, and behavioral interventions.
This page last reviewed on November 30, 2011

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