Anthony Fauci: Unfinished business

AIDS, bioterrorism and the evolving legacy of Anthony Fauci

Editor’s Note:  This profile of Anthony Fauci, M.D., first published in 2004, has been updated.

Bill Snyder
Published: April, 2004

Photo by Paul Fetters
The ghosts of 11 West haunt Anthony Fauci, M.D.

He can see the patients from the late 1960s, dying from an inflammatory disease that is now curable. He can feel the despair of the early 1980s, when the 11th-floor unit in the NIH Clinical Center filled again—this time with patients in the final stages of AIDS.

The unit is nearly empty now. Most people infected with HIV live at home these days, thanks to advances in drug therapy. But the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) worries that something else is right around the corner.

In 2003 “we had SARS,” Fauci says. “And then we had little blips on the radar screen … monkeypox … West Nile … Sooner or later, and likely in my lifetime, the next big one is going to come.

“We’re much more ready than we were,” he adds, his speech flecked with the accent of his Brooklyn upbringing, “but the way emerging and re-emerging diseases occur, you will almost never be totally ready, because it’s a constant tension between emerging microbes and human civilization.”

For nearly 30 years, ever since the first handful of cases of a strange pneumonia-like condition in gay men was reported by federal health officials, Fauci has been leading much of the government’s fight against AIDS.

Along the way, he has advised presidents, been condemned—then applauded—by AIDS activists lobbying for life-saving therapies, and become one of the world’s most widely cited scientists for the important contributions he has made in immunology and HIV disease.

But he’s not done. After Sept. 11, 2001, he launched an effort to develop countermeasures against a bioterrorist attack. He helped craft President Bush’s $15 billion, five-year plan to combat AIDS throughout the globe. And he’s dedicated to finding an effective HIV vaccine.

Much of Fauci’s success is due to his ability to communicate, adds his wife, Christine Grady, R.N., Ph.D., who heads human subject research in the NIH Department of Clinical Bioethics.

“He can take complicated issues and make them understandable to most anybody,” Grady says. “He does it … in a clear and respectful way, and also with a lot of enthusiasm ... He can do that for members of Congress, he can do it for the fourth grade science class, and he does both, or for an audience of virologists. That’s perhaps his most enduring gift to society.”

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