SEATTLE, Wash. -- "That's it, done. I figure that was the end of it."
Seattle aviation manager Rod Fichter isn't recalling the heart-stopping moments before a plane crash, but his reaction to being diagnosed with HIV back in 1986. He kept waiting for symptoms to appear.
"A year would go by and another year would go by and I said, you know I don't have any symptoms, why not just keep going? And it did and finally it turned into--, what are we now? 20, 25 years later and still no symptoms," he said.
Rod is a rarity among HIV-infected patients.
"It's quite unusual since probably less than two-percent of people who have HIV infection will have this type of natural control," said Dr. Janine Maenza who heads the Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit.
Researchers have known for years that there are genetic differences between HIV patients who go on to develop full blown AIDS and those who don't, but they didn't know the mechanism behind it.
Now Boston researchers have taken Rod's DNA and that of a thousand patients like him around the world to finally unlock the mystery. They found that patients like Rod possess a specific genetic variation that alerts their immune systems to suppress the HIV virus.
"It's not a cure, it's not a vaccine, but it's information that we would certainly hope will help us both with HIV therapeutics and with understanding what parts of the immune system we might want to augment as we work on developing a preventative HIV vaccine," said Dr. Maenza
After losing many friends to the disease, Rod says he was glad to volunteer for the research.
"I thought that it would be a good idea... for me to give something back that I got from whatever fluke of nature it was."
Volunteers are still needed for the immunity study as well as for two vaccines studies, one involving HIV-negative twins. The vaccine being studied does not contain the virus so there is no risk of infection to the participants.
For more information about HIV Immunity Study please call 206-667-2305 or click here.
For more information about other studies, including vaccine trials call 206-667-7510 or click here.