Conversations with Leaders: Dr. Anthony Fauci

Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director, NIAID
We had the pleasure of speaking with one of the world’s leading scientists and authorities in the area of immunology and infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), about the organization he has led for over 25 years and the important and life-saving work it champions.  Here’s an excerpt.

On the Fundamentals of Vaccinology-The fundamental principle of vaccinology is to expose a person to a weakened or killed form of a microbe. The concept is based on the body having the capability of responding adequately to a particular virus. Let’s take the polio or measles vaccine. The body can mount an immune response so that, when you actually get exposed to the real microbe or virus, you will have a head start mounting an immune response that can protect you against disease. Usually, vaccinnologists design a vaccine that mimics natural infection and induces this type of an immune response. We have a problem with HIV/AIDS, because HIV does not seem to mount an immune response in the body that’s ultimately able to clear it and, hence, develop protective immunity.

On Preparing for Flu Season-I believe we’ve been somewhat complacent about the morbidity and mortality of seasonal flu. We get very excited when there appears to be a threat of a pandemic flu. Since 2005, we’ve been concerned about the H5N1 bird flu, which killed a lot of birds, but rarely jumped species to infect humans. Last fall, we had a regular flu season. As the flu season ended in March-April of 2009, we started to see cases of a brand-new “swine flu,” which is the H1N1. This variant first appeared in Mexico, then [spread] throughout the U.S. and globally. This has real pandemic potential, because it can spread very easily from person to person. We’re watching that very closely. Part of pandemic influenza preparedness is to [build] the infrastructure to develop vaccines as rapidly as we can—to develop a new pipeline of drugs to treat influenza.

On the Future of Vaccinology-I think the future of vaccinology is very bright because [of] the technological advances, particularly in the arena of genomics and the spin-offs of genomics. These will give us the opportunity to develop vaccines against important infectious diseases. If you look at the three big global killers right now in certain countries in the developing world, more than 50 percent of the people in a particular society die either of HIV/AIDS, TB, or malaria. We don’t have vaccines against any of those three great killers.  We also have a number of other infections that we need to develop vaccines against, and there are even noninfectious diseases, such as certain cancers, where there’s a very important effort to try and develop vaccines. So, the future of vaccinology is challenged by a lot of important goals that we need to fulfill. That’s the sobering part of that, that they’re very important and serious challenges. The good news is that the technology we’re involved with right now is opening doors for us that we never imagined.

Read this conversation in its entirety: Anthony Fauci, M.D

Listen to the complete interview: The Business of Government Hour

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