Deadly Viruses Are Put on Notice

by Steve Dewhurst, University of Rochester

I am a virologist, and have spent my professional career on HIV/AIDS research.  In 2034, I expect to be working on something else – because AIDS will no longer be a problem.   

Improved prevention efforts – including vaccines, microbicides and antiviral drugs – will have prevented all new infections with HIV. And those already infected with the virus will have been cured using powerful DNA-editing enzymes that can target and remove integrated proviral DNA from the chromosomes of infected cells.

But it’s not just AIDS that will be prevented. In 2034, new vaccines for HIV, malaria and Mycobacterium tuberculosis will exist, saving 5 million lives a year. Vaccines for old foes such as influenza will also have been improved through structured-based design and the use of “designer” vaccine adjuvants, or additives that are specifically tailored for at-risk populations such as infants, young children and the elderly.

We will also have embraced gene engineering as our best defense against the spread of the mosquito-borne diseases that will occur as a result of global warming.  Genetically modified mosquitoes resistant to infection by deadly human pathogens such as Dengue and Chikungunya viruses will have been released, and shown to prevent mosquito-to-human infections.

In 2034, we will also have figured out how to shape and leverage the communities of microbes that share our bodies (our microbiome).  New probiotics will be used to reduce inflammation and to prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis in persons with genetically-determined susceptibility to these diseases.  Ingested probiotics will also be used to prevent and control metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, by reducing the output of microbially-derived metabolites that drive atherosclerosis.

One other change: in 2034, researchers like me will be working with true artificial intelligence systems, capable of human-like learning, reasoning and deduction – but equipped with a far larger library of knowledge than any human.  Armed with these new “friends,” the pace of scientific discovery in 2034 will have accelerated exponentially from what it is today.  It will be a wonderfully exciting time to be a scientist.

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., is Vice Dean for Research at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Associate Vice President for Health Sciences Research, Dean’s Professor & Chair, Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Rochester. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health. 

If you want to make sure that we realize the benefits from this and other scientific advances, let your members of Congress know that federal funding for science matters and should be made a higher national priority. The Science Coalition’s Science Matters toolkit can help you get started.
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