MODERATOR: Richard Besser
PARTICIPANTS: Susan Zolla-Pazner, David Baltimore, Jean Ashton, Peter Staley, Robert Grant
PROGRAM DATE: Friday, May 31, 2013

This program brings together leading researchers on the forefront of scientific efforts to understand and attack the virus that causes AIDS. With the rate of HIV infection on the rise once more in New York, it’s a critical time to evaluate where we stand in the battle against HIV and AIDS and to explore the most promising opportunities for future breakthroughs. The World Science Festival invites this esteemed ensemble of experts to challenge one another, collaborate, and craft their shared vision of an AIDS-free future. The program also includes a special advance preview of the New-York Historical Society’s fascinating new exhibit, AIDS in New York: The First Five Years, which opens to the public June 7.

Presented in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society, where “AIDS in New York: The First Five Years” is on display from June 7 to September 15, 2013.

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ABC News Chief Health & Medical Editor

Richard Besser is ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. In this role, he provides medical analysis and commentary for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms, including World News with David Muir, Good Morning America, and Nightline. Besser came to ABC News from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. He also served as acting director for the CDC. Besser began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Following this, he served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, as the pediatric residency director. While in San Diego he worked for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998, where he served in various capacities, including epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch. He received a Surgeon General’s Medallion award for his leadership during the H1N1 response. Besser holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.


Pathologist, Immunologist

Susan Zolla-Pazner, professor of pathology at the New York University’s school of medicine and director of AIDS research at the New York Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is a scientist who has devoted her professional life to areas of immunology where basic research intersects with the needs of modern medicine. In 1981, Zolla-Pazner was asked to consult on several patients who had an unusual type of cancer, and became a key participant in the diagnosis of the first patients with a new form of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a tumor related to the disease which later became known as AIDS. She was the first to describe the immunologic deficits in one-third of the “healthy” gay population in New York City, heralding in 1982 the devastating effect of this epidemic on the gay population.

In the years since, Zolla-Pazner has authored more than 290 scientific publications on AIDS and related illnesses. Zolla-Pazner’s lab was instrumental in studies of the Thai clinical HIV vaccine trial, identifying the antibodies in vaccine recipients associated with decreased risk of infection. She collaborates actively with researchers around the world and has received support through the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military HIV Research Program, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for her studies to develop an AIDS vaccine and for her work in training students and healthcare professionals from India, Cameroon and China in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of AIDS and tuberculosis. She was elected in 2011 as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Biologist and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine

After serving as President of Caltech for nine years, David Baltimore was appointed President Emeritus and the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology in 2006. Awarded the Nobel Prize at the age of 37 for research in virology, Baltimore has influenced national science policy on such issues as recombinant DNA research and the AIDS epidemic. He is a researcher, educator, administrator and public advocate for science and engineering and is considered one of the world’s most influential biologists.

He received his Ph.D. in 1964 from Rockefeller University, where he returned to serve as President from 1990-91 and faculty member until 1994. For almost 30 years, Baltimore was a faculty member at MIT where his early investigations examined the molecular processes underlying the ability of poliovirus to infect cells. This led him to a consideration of how cancer-causing RNA viruses manage to infect and permanently alter a healthy cell. Baltimore shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for a discovery, which provided the key to understanding the life-cycle of retroviruses such as HIV.

Baltimore has contributed widely to the understanding of cancer, AIDS and the molecular basis of the immune response. His present research focuses on control of inflammatory and immune responses, on the roles of microRNAs in the immune system and on the use of gene therapy methods to treat HIV and cancer in a program called “Engineering Immunity”. He is Director of the Joint Center for Translational Medicine, a collaborative effort joining Caltech and UCLA in a program translating basic science discoveries into clinical realities.

Curator, Author

Jean Ashton is currently senior director for research and programs at the New-York Historical Society and curator of AIDS in New York: The First Five Years. Ashton holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, as well as degrees from Michigan, Harvard, and Rutgers. In 2012, she retired as head of the Library of the New-York Historical Society, where she was responsible for a variety of publications and exhibitions on historical subjects including New York’s ratification of the constitution, Hudson River School authors, and the invention of Santa Claus. She was curator of Be Sure! Be Safe! Get Vaccinated!, Smallpox, Vaccination, and Civil Liberties in New York and co-curator of Breakthrough: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of Insulin.


Peter Staley has been a long-term AIDS and gay rights activist, first as a member of ACT UP New York, then as the founding director of TAG, the Treatment Action Group. He served on the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) for 13 years and then founded AIDSmeds.com, an educational website for people living with HIV. Staley is a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague.

In January, 2004, Staley launched a personal ad campaign to bring much needed attention to an epidemic of crystal meth use among gay men. Two months later, New York City appropriated the first government funds anywhere in the U.S. targeting meth prevention for gay men. Other cities and states soon followed.

Researcher, Professor of Medicine

Robert (Bob) Grant has 29 years of experience with HIV/AIDS research and clinical care. He is a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology and a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. Grant is also the medical director of the UCSF Laboratory of Clinical Virology, which provides diagnostic testing for HIV drug resistance for all public clinics and hospitals in San Francisco.

Grant is the protocol chair of the iPrEx trial, called “Chemoprophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Men,” which was funded by the NIH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the NIH-funded open-label roll-over iPrEx OLE; and HPTN 067, called the ADAPT study (Alternative Dosing to Augment PrEP Tablet use). He serves on the PrEP trialists working group, and acts as an advisor to the WHO, UNAIDS, CDC, and Gilead, regarding the prevention use of antiretroviral therapy.

In 2012, Grant was honored to be on the Time 100 list of The Most Influential People in the World.