Today marks the 59th birthday of Dr. David Ho, the Taiwanese American AIDS researcher who pioneered the use of protease inhibitors in HIV-infected patients and other treatments against AIDS, prompting Time Magazine to name him “The Man of the Year” in 1996 and “The Man who Could Beat AIDS” in 2010.
The Taiwanese-born Ho immigrated to Los Angeles at age 12 and grew up to pursue a career in medicine; choosing to study infectious diseases at the UCLA School of Medicine in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It was during this time, while a resident at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, that he noticed the first reported cases of what would soon come to be known as AIDS in mostly young gay men.
As Dr. Ho explained in an interview with PBS: “We were puzzled. What was going on? Because if you could go to the medical textbooks, it’s pretty clear that the kind of infections we were seeing were well described in cancer patients, in transplant patients and in patients who have taken heavy, heavy doses of steroids, for example, to suppress the immune system because they had lupus or some autoimmune disease. But in people who were born healthy and lived a healthy life and then all of a sudden came down with this sort of infection that was virtually unheard of? And so that immediately triggered the question, what was going on?”
Since that time, Dr. Ho has been at the forefront of AIDS research, having published over 400 papers that has helped the scientific community better understand the mechanisms of the HIV virus and worked to develop the highly active anti-retroviral therapy—all of which has helped reduce AIDS mortality rates by six times in the developed world since 1996.
Although, Dr. Ho initially explained that his interest in the HIV virus and AIDS was purely scientific, he later told a journalist that there was also a more humanitarian reason for his efforts: “Bear in mind we’re also talking about a population that has suffered discrimination — gay men. Then some of them, because of the fact that they were coming down with a mysterious illness, were facing rejection from friends and family. So they’re suffering at all different levels.”
In addition to being named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine (as well as making the final list for that publication’s “Man of the Century” in 1999), Dr. Ho has won numerous other accolades for his work including the awarding of the Presidential Citizens Medal by then-President Bill Clinton and being inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.
Although his standing in the annals of scientific history is already secure, Dr. Ho continues his research; determined to do no less than discover a vaccine to wipe out the disease completely. And in doing so, Dr. Ho is staking his reputation by pursuing a controversial theory to inject a “ready made arsenal” of antibodies into the immune system to destroy the HIV virus. While many in the scientific community may have doubts about this approach, two people who don’t are Bill and Melinda Gates who have pledged $7 million from their foundation for Dr. Ho to carry out his research.
So as the world waits to see if Dr. Ho will indeed live up to Time Magazine’s title as the man to beat what many consider to be an unbeatable disease, we wish him a happy birthday and honor his standing as a true Original Offender.