On World AIDS Day – Fighting HIV with Data

On December 1 we recognize World AIDS Day.  Although there is much to celebrate about the progress researchers have made in fighting HIV and AIDS, there is so much yet to do.  According to U.S. health officials, only 28 percent of the 1.2 million Americans infected with HIV have their infection under control and therefore risk spreading the disease to others.  Furthermore, it is estimated that one in five U.S. adults who are infected with HIV don’t know it.  And, as I say, these are figures from the United States!

imageThe situation is far more grim in other areas of the globe.  Worldwide, more than 1.8 million people die of HIV-related causes each year. That is approximately 5000 deaths every single day!  In the sub-Saharan region of Africa, where the prevalence of HIV is eight times higher for women than men, about one in three women seeking care during pregnancy is HIV positive.

Today, the predominant way to combat HIV is outreach education to help prevent new cases, and antiretroviral (AVR) therapy for people who are infected with the virus.  Although some countries like South Africa are able to offer free AVR drugs to HIV positive residents, people in other countries are often not so fortunate.  Experts say even the South African government may not be financially equipped to continue supporting current and anticipated future cases of HIV.

imageClearly a cure for AIDS is needed as well as a way to prevent HIV infections all together.  Researchers continue to put their hope in discovering a vaccine that will do the job.  One of those researcher is our own Dr. David Heckerman at Microsoft Research.  I’ve profiled Dr. Heckerman’s fascinating work over the years here on HealthBlog and also not long ago on a segment we did for Health Tech Today called Mapping Mutations

Currently, Dr. Heckerman is collaborating with researchers at the Ragon Institute in Boston and the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) as well as the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH).  Earlier in his career, Dr. Heckman worked on ways to combat e-mail spam.  He soon came across the idea that there could be similarities between the ways that e-mail spam morphs as it is promulgated on the Net and the ways HIV mutates in order to hid from our immune system.  He tackled the spam problem using powerful computer arrays to process big data sets.  The question was, using this same approach, could he learn information about the HIV virus that would be useful to HIV vaccine researchers?  It turns out the answer is “yes”.

Today, Microsoft Research has released a new video that profiles Dr. Heckerman’s good work and his collaboration with other scientists in the fight against HIV and AIDS.  You can watch that video below, and learn more about this promising line of research by following this link.

Microsoft Research

Congratulations to my Microsoft colleague, Dr. David Heckerman, and fellow researchers around the globe on the progress they are making to rid the world of this terrible disease.  These are the kinds of contributions that make all of us who work here at Microsoft very proud indeed.

Bill Crounse, MD            Senior Director, Worldwide Health            Microsoft

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