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April 29, 2002

Hope Clinic dedicated in Decaur

By Michael Terrazas


In a modest ceremony amidst the noise and bustle of downtown Decatur, Emory dedicated the appropriately named Hope Clinic Wednesday, April 24, perhaps moving one step closer to developing vaccines for the world’s most lethal infectious diseases.

The clinic, located at 603 Church St., will serve as a headquarters for “translational research” on vaccines, bringing basic research from the labratory to human clinical trials. Emory is home to a critical mass of vaccine research (especially the hunt for an AIDS vaccine), and the Hope Clinic will play an integral role in that work.

“I am immensely proud of what this clinic is and represents, and what it says about the community in which we live and work,” President Bill Chace told the crowd gathered in the clinic’s small parking lot. “This facility enables the University to contribute to the community, but perhaps more importantly, it represents a way the community itself can contribute to the defeat of AIDS.”

A handful of speakers, including School of Medicine Dean Thomas Lawley, Vaccine Research Center (VRC) Director Rafi Ahmed and Hope Clinic Medical Director Mark Feinberg, took pains to praise each regiment of the University’s multipronged attack on AIDS. These units include the VRC, the Yerkes Primate Research Center, the Center for AIDS Research, the schools of medicine and public health, the statewide Georgia Research Alliance, and now the Hope Clinic.

Later that evening, Feinberg delivered a lecture in WHSCAB auditorium titled “Opportunities and Challenges in the Pursuit of an AIDS Vaccine.” AIDS, and other infectious killers such as malaria and tuberculosis, is proving to be the toughest foe yet encountered by vaccine researchers, Feinberg said, but that doesn’t mean the fight is without hope.

“The development of a safe, effective and affordable HIV vaccine represents the best—and potentially the only—practicable strategy to slow and ultimately stop the spread of the AIDS pandemic,” Feinberg said. “Novel AIDS vaccine approaches have recently achieved impressive results in pre-clinical studies in the laboratory and in animal models, and are now entering clinical trials in humans.”

AIDS is now the top public health threat in the world, Feinberg said, with an estimated 40 million people infected worldwide and another 14,000 being added each day. Of those 14,000 daily infections, he said, more than 95 percent are in developing countries, 2,000 are in children under 15, and about half are among 15–24-year-olds (people in their prime reproductive years).

In the United States, Feinberg said, great reductions in AIDS mortality have been made recently due to anti-retroviral therapies, but even these advances may be threatened by a virus that seems to be developing resistance to the treatment.

However, by far the population most threatened by AIDS is in sub-Saharan Africa, where a full 70 percent of the world’s infected people are located. This poses several difficulties toward development and dissemination of a vaccine including economic disincentives (these are some of the world’s poorest people) and cultural and ethical issues.

The Hope Clinic dedication and Feinberg’s lecture were not the only AIDS vaccine-related events on campus last week. On April 22, some of the country’s leading scientific researchers gathered in WHSCAB for a half-day symposium, “AIDS Vaccine Science in 2002: Enduring Challenges and Promising New Directions.”