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Baltimore discusses AIDS prospects

By Cliff Schmidt

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Whitehead Institute Director David Baltimore '61 spoke at length on the many scientific and social issues of AIDS in "Where Will It All End?," the last seminar of the AIDS Context subject (7.00/15.60J).

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Asked whether he believed the Food and Drug Administration was doing everything it could to to develop a vaccine and whether the testing process should be as long as it is, Baltimore stood by FDA procedures, citing the dangers of releasing an unsafe drug. Since the government is assuming responsibility, it cannot risk releasing a drug before complete testing, he said.

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"Someone has to take responsibility," he stressed, in rebuttal to groups like ACTUP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which disprove of the FDA's extensive testing process.

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Baltimore added that releasing a drug early could not only be dangerous, but could also create a false sense of optimism. He mentioned as an example the drug that Rock Hudson went to Paris to get before the FDA found that it was less effective than older drugs used.

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As in years past, Baltimore gave five years as a personal estimate of how long it might be for

a vaccine to be developed. The best animal system for testing a vaccine is the chimpanzee as it can be infected by human immuno-deficiency virus and yet not develop AIDS, according to Baltimore. Should more time be spent studying how its immune system works, the chimpanzee could become an important tool in AIDS research, he said.

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Baltimore himself has been studying why the human immune system cannot sustain a fight against the AIDS virus and what biological factors cause the drop in intensity at which the immune system fights the virus shortly after infection.

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Citing recent findings by other researchers, Baltimore discussed the direct correlation between age and chance of developing AIDS. A study which divided people into age groups of one to 11 years of age, 12 to 17, 18 to 35, and 36 to 70 found that there is a significant increase in the rate of AIDS infection with each age group.

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Baltimore added that he was alarmed by a recent The New York Times article discussing the surge in teenage girls prostituting themselves in order to buy crack. He estimated 20 to 30 percent of these girls will eventually carry the AIDS virus, and an even higher percentage of the men involved in this cycle.