Diseases & Research


HIV-related virus particles

Simian HIV-related virus particles (small circles) budding from the cell membrane.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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The Hutchinson Center is leading the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The Center is home to the world's largest HIV vaccine clinical trials network and our scientists are pursuing a variety of innovative new HIV prevention strategies, treatments and potential cures.  

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Fast Facts

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, was first reported in 1981 in the United States and is now a major worldwide epidemic, with more than 34 million people currently infected.

  • AIDS is a disabling or life-threatening illness caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV.

  • HIV seeks and destroys the body's disease-fighting white blood cells, weakening the immune system and making it very difficult for the body to fend off certain infections.

  • HIV is primarily found in the blood, semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person and is transmitted in three major ways: through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person, through sharing needles or syringes with an infected person, and from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding.

  • A person who has HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. An AIDS patient is susceptible to life-threatening infections caused by microbes that usually do not cause illness in healthy people.

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Prevention & Causes

The Hutchinson Center is a world-leader in research to improve HIV prevention and treatment:

Home of the world’s largest HIV vaccine trials network — Hutchinson Center researchers lead the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), an international collaboration dedicated to stopping HIV's spread in the U.S. and around the world. Based in Seattle, the network is the largest clinical trials program devoted to HIV vaccines. The network’s HIV vaccine trial units are located at leading research institutions in 27 cities on four continents.

Making HIV vulnerable to immunotherapy — Research by Drs. Julie Overbaugh and colleagues could provide important clues for designing an HIV vaccine. The researchers found that two simple mutations in a certain HIV-1 strain could render it vulnerable to attack by the body's immune system. These findings could form the foundation for vaccines that help the body to fight off HIV.

Using statistics to unravel global HIV — The Hutchinson Center is home to the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention (SCHARP). SCHARP provides statistical help to researchers worldwide and also conducts a statistical methodology and mathematical modeling research program. SCHARP also collects, manages and analyzes data from clinical trials and studies dedicated to eliminating HIV/AIDS.

Understanding HIV vulnerability's ancient origins — Why are humans vulnerable to HIV today? The answer may lie in evidence of human immunity to a virus that infected chimpanzees 4 million years ago, according to research by Drs. Michael Emerman and Harmit Malik. Learn more »

Curbing HIV spread in women — Research led by Drs. Florian Hladik and Julie McElrath could lead to new strategies to prevent HIV-1 transmission in women, who typically contract HIV through sexual contact. The researchers identified two different types of immune cells in the vagina that HIV-1 simultaneously enters. Their findings could inform prevention measures that interfere with vaginal HIV infection. Learn more »

Developing new approaches to vaccination — Dr. Ann Duerr leads innovative research and clinical trials that advance the search for an effective HIV vaccine. Duerr is examining whether vaccines can be more effective if they are administered through mucosal surfaces, such as the nose and mouth, instead of the blood stream.

Investigating why some HIV patients stay symptom free — Drs. Julie McElrath, Jennifer Lund and colleagues are investigating why “long-term non-progressors” – the five to ten percent of patients with HIV who go more than a decade without progressing to AIDS or developing other symptoms – can control the virus. This research’s goal is to gain insights that could someday improve outcomes among a much broader group of patients with HIV. Learn more »

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Treatment & Prognosis

Hutchinson Center researchers are conducting some of the world's most advanced research on potential new HIV treatments and cures:

Pursuing immunotherapy as an HIV cure – Hutchinson Center scientists and their collaborators are using a $20 million study to examine whether an HIV-infected person's own immune cells can be genetically modified to deny HIV entry into the body’s blood cells. The team, led by Drs. Keith Jerome and Hans-Peter Kiem, will also pursue tools to eradicate existing reservoirs of infection in the body. Learn more »

Building a better vaccine  To accelerate HIV vaccine development, Dr. Julie McElrath and colleagues have formed a partnership with academic, biotech and industry leaders to better understand how natural immunity can enhance the immunity sparked by vaccines. This partnership’s research centers around adjuvants – agents added to vaccines to help the body respond to them. Experimental evidence has found that adjuvants can boost the immune system’s response to infections; Dr. McElrath’s team is investigating how to leverage this response in patients with HIV.

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Hutch in South Africa

Fred Hutch's efforts in South Africa are just one example of how center scientists are at the forefront of HIV research.

The Hutchinson Center Research Institute - South Africa is a nonprofit, South African entity established by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington. This institute includes the Cape Town HVTN Immunology Laboratory.

The Search for an HIV Vaccine - The HIV Vaccine Trials Network is launching clinical trials of the most promising HIV vaccines ever developed. It's Fred Hutch's latest step towards ending AIDS's deadly march – and just one example of how Hutch scientists are at the forefront of HIV research.

Stopping HIV's March - Hutch Cape Town lab accelerates vaccine work - In Cape Town, South Africa, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center staff have spent the past year building a state-of-the-art lab that will be one of Africa's most advanced scientific facilities.

The Cape Town HVTN Immunology Laboratory (CHIL) will perform validated GCLP-certified cellular endpoint assays on samples from clinical trial sites throughout Southern Africa. These critical data will help inform decisions on the advancement of new HIV vaccines. In addition, the laboratory will conduct studies to better understand how the whole body responds to vaccinations both in the first few days to weeks after vaccination and then years later.

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