December 10th, 2008
12:34 PM ET

I am working to stop the next HIV

Program Note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle.
Watch Planet In Peril: Battle Lines Thursday 9p ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

Check out these pictures from Planet In Peril: Battle lines. Anderson and Dr. Sanjay Gupta join a team determined to stop the next deadly virus before it gets out of the jungle…
Check out these pictures from Planet In Peril: Battle lines. Anderson and Dr. Sanjay Gupta join a team determined to stop the next deadly virus before it gets out of the jungle…

Dr. Brian Pike
Global Viral Forecasting Initiative

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been interested in science, biology in particular. But, my interest in viruses and pandemic prevention came fairly late in my career.

Unlike many of my colleagues, who have dedicated their early training to better understanding the complex interactions between humans and potentially deadly viruses, I began my career as a cancer biologist, hoping to better comprehend what happens to biological systems when they go awry. It wasn’t until I was late in my training as a doctoral student that I began to think about starting down the road that I’m on today, investigating the emergence of infectious disease.

My interest in infectious diseases, and viruses in particular, is an outgrowth of my experience working with HIV-infected children. I was a volunteer at home for sick children that is located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, "The Children's Inn”. This experience gave me the opportunity to see, first hand, the devastation that this disease has on individuals and families. I witnessed the struggles that parents went through as they and their children suffered with the infection. This experience had a profound impact on me.

HIV circulated within the human population for at least a generation before scientists were aware of its existence. Imagine how different the world would be today if we, as a society, had learned about HIV when it first began to infect humans. We might have been able to prevent the deaths of millions of people, including the deaths of some those children that I came to know at The Children’s Inn.

What better way to honor the children at “The Children’s Inn” than to fight to prevent something like HIV from ever happening again. This is how I came to the decision to study emerging infectious diseases and join the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. In a nutshell, I am working to stop the next HIV.

Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Researchers: (L to R) Matt LeBreton, Karen Saylors, Dr. Brian Pike, and Nathan Wolfe.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Maria

    Dear Dr. Pike,
    I wish to express my appreciation to all GVFI team members. I think the GVFI research projects are crucial to understand the origin and evolution of deadly viruses. Importantly, HIV-2 virus, is highly concentrated in West Africa, so you have rich ground to dig in; and I wish your team all success. Thanks for the post.

    December 10, 2008 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Brian, sorry to be so wordy. I was going to mention that I know a woman that works in the New York state prison system as a nurse. She's worked with HIV patients for many years. She has found two cases of women infected with the virus who display no symptoms (clean bloodwork levels) after several years of monitoring and testing.

    They appear to have a natural immunity to the effects of the virus.

    She has reported this to the scientific community, but to her knowledge, there has been no follow up.

    December 10, 2008 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Julie San Diego, CA


    Congratulations to devoting your life to working to solve a medical mystery that has been confounding the best efforts of our brightest medical professionals for a quarter of a century.

    My old boyfriend studied the AIDS virus in the late '80's. He gave up and went on to working on things like Viagra and such. It is one of the most evolved viruses – the fact that the virus often makes mistakes when replicating itself in it's human host has actually been an evolutionary advantage for it, making it somewhat impervious to a vaccine – you can't shoot at a moving target, it is changing and evolving faster than medicine can keep up.

    If it ever evolves to the point where it can survive in an oxygenated environment (it is currently anaerobic now and dies in air), we will all be in trouble because it could be as contagious as the common cold.

    For those who are interested, there is a great report entitled "HIV 25 years later: Is a Cure Possible?" in the November 2008 edition of the magazine Scientific American.

    My question to you Brian: The virus takes root so deeply in its human host that it is almost completely impossible to eradicate, making a "cure" unlikely. HIV does it's damage by turning the body's immune system against itself. Instead of trying to kill the virus, what if we found a way to trick the body into allowing the virus to live peacefully in it – much the same way many of us harbor the viruses that cause cold sores and mononucleuosis for the rest of our lives without major bodily damage?

    I think we're taking the wrong approach. We can't kill it. Let's find a way to have the body accept the virus without the damaging (and eventually fatal) immune response.

    You may be interested in exploring the

    December 10, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    The next HIV – would that include hemorrhagic diseases like Ebola? I hope for all our sakes that you do find the next HIV and stop it before it kills too. Good luck in your search and thank you for your dedication to this.

    December 10, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  5. JoeDuck

    Thank you for your extraordinary effort and to CNN for bringing this kind of news to the table. Global health is the number one "news item" in the world as it affects every human alive, yet it gets so little coverage compared to celebrity news.

    December 10, 2008 at 12:54 pm |
  6. Cindy

    HIV is a horrible disease for anyone to have but it is worse to me seeing a child have to deal with it. I hope that your work enables you to help these children , possibly find a cure and to stop any other pandemic from happening.


    December 10, 2008 at 12:50 pm |
  7. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    I understand that measure can be taken invitro to correct the HIV status of a fetus, carried by a woman affected by HIV. Is this a factor in your current research?

    December 10, 2008 at 12:39 pm |