Racing to Find an AIDS Cure

May 18, 1994

The race continues to find a cure for AIDS. To say that time is of the essence understates the severity of a disease emerging as a global epidemic. Predictions of the number of people worldwide who will be infected with the AIDS virus by the turn of the century are staggering, ranging from 40 million to as many as 110 million.

Figures from the United States alone are sobering enough.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is the No. 1 killer of American men aged 25 to 44, and the eighth-greatest cause of death overall in the country. Since statistics began to be tabulated a decade ago, the disease has taken the lives of more than 200,000 Americans. Currently, about 90 Americans die each day from AIDS. An increasing number of these fatalities occurs among women who caught the illness through heterosexual contact or intravenous drug use.

One of the tragic upshots of this development is that as more women are afflicted with AIDS, more children are born with it, thus doomed to premature deaths before their lives have begun.

Against this grim backdrop comes the heartening news that a University of Maryland Baltimore County biochemistry professor, Ellicott City resident Michael Summers, has won a major award for his work in describing a key element of the AIDS virus and discovering a chemical reaction that prevents replication of the human immunodeficiency (HIV) cells that signal the onset of AIDS.

During each of the next five years, Dr. Summers will receive up to $800,000 in AIDS research backing from the Chevy Chase-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest philanthropic foundation in the U.S. and the second-largest sponsor of basic medical research in the nation (outspent only by the U.S. government).

Dr. Summers' award will cover the cost of his salary from HHMI, a new laboratory for him at UMBC (where he will remain on the faculty), a small research team, equipment, supplies and travel expenses. As he remarked to The Sun's Holly Selby, the primary significance of the grant is that it will allow him to proceed more quickly toward a possible AIDS cure.

The numbers cited above testify that a cure can't come too soon. We congratulate Dr. Summers for his previous work in this crucial field, and for the award from the Hughes Medical Institute that will enable his AIDS studies to continue at an even faster pace.

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