As one of the world’s leading HIV vaccine researchers, Julie McElrath has witnessed first-hand the disease’s devastating toll on children and families.
"I thought I had a firm grip on the seriousness of this disease," said McElrath, who has been researching HIV/AIDS and potential vaccines for more than two decades. "But visiting areas in Africa where the epidemic has hit hardest showed me how important our work really is. Parents dying of AIDS is commonplace. Orphans are raised by other orphans. We're experiencing the loss of an entire generation. It is terribly sobering."
As director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, holder of the Joel D. Meyers Endowed Chair and a leader of a massive international effort to develop a preventive vaccine, McElrath is at the forefront of the AIDS war.
Her lab has identified some of HIV’s key mechanisms and she has led and contributed to a number of national and international HIV prevention efforts. These include the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is the world's largest network of its kind, and the Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit.
Supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, McElrath’s groundbreaking research generates new hope that a vaccine could end the epidemic not only in Africa but in her own back yard.
"The infection rate is on the rise in America within high-risk populations," she said. "AIDS is far from over in this country."
McElrath is also driven to conquer the disease on a personal level.
"As a parent, part of the reason I do this research is to create a brighter future for my son's generation," she said. "It makes my work that much more important to me."