With a belief that curing HIV/AIDS is an achievable goal, one of the most important researchers studying the deadly disease in the world today is coming to Western University.
Eric Arts has been recruited to Western from top-ranked U.S. institution Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) to serve as the new chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
Arts and his research team at CWRU, many of whom are joining him at Western, and the Uganda Core Lab at the Center for AIDS Research have provided the international medical community with a better understanding of how different strains of HIV mutate in different parts of the world, causing not only major differences in disease development but also varying timelines in terms of progression to a patient with AIDS.
"We've found that the strain of HIV that spreads most aggressively within populations, which is the one most dominant in Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, India, Brazil, and China, actually causes the slowest disease progression," explains Arts, who has authored or co-authored more than 120 papers in scientific and medical journals. "The findings show that the expansion of HIV in the human population is directly related to how long a patient lives with the virus and can transmit it to others."
Born in Windsor, Ont., Arts is a Western alumnus, completing his Bachelor of Sciences in London, Ontario in the late 1980s before heading to McGill University in Montreal for his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology.
Schulich Medicine & Dentistry Dean Michael Strong says Arts' Western homecoming will provide transformational leadership to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, which is already globally recognized thanks to the groundbreaking discoveries of Chil-Yong Kang, a Western researcher currently clinically testing a preventative AIDS vaccine.
"Eric is bringing new technologies and new methodologies to Western, which has already considerably enhanced our understanding of how HIV/AIDS can be treated and potentially cured," says Strong. "This is a new way of thinking for Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and a complete game-changer in terms of leadership and research strengths."
With clinical trials scheduled for 2015, Arts says recent discoveries made by his research team and supported by The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) make him cautiously optimistic that effectively curing AIDS is a very real possibility.
"There are two types of cures, one is where you eradicate the virus from the patient and never find it anywhere in that person again and then there is the cure where you remove the burden of the virus so much so that any remaining virus can effectively be controlled by the immune system and you no longer need drugs. The latter is something that we hope to achieve."
Rowena Johnston, amfAR's Vice President (Research) says, "We've been impressed with the innovation of Eric's ideas and how quickly he pulled together a research team to investigate them. We're now excited to see how these ideas are reflected in clinical studies."