BEND, Ore. - An Oregon scientist is aiming to eliminate HIV, once and for all.
Dr. Louis Picker has been on a mission to wipe out the human immunodeficiency virus ever since he graduated from medical school at the start of the AIDS epidemic in the early '80s.
Picker has been working on an HIV vaccine for 15 years at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He seeks to create both a preventative and therapeutic vaccine for the virus that causes AIDS.
"We do have a real vaccine and hope to start testing it on humans next year," Picker told NewsChannel 21 by phone on Friday.
The vaccine already has shown it can kill the virus in monkeys.
"Vaccinated animals were able to control the virus and ultimately get rid of it. That's really the breakthrough that has sort of led to this point," he said.
Picker plans to test the vaccine on a group of 40-50 people next year. If that proves successful, he will then test the vaccine on thousands of people to make sure it is safe and effective. He said this process can take eight years.
Picker said he believes it's important that the public not become complacent with the current medicine and treatment available. He said it's crucial to keep working toward a cure and spreading public awareness.
Another Oregonian who is looking to spread HIV public awareness is an advocate for those who are HIV positive, Zachary Richard.
"I found out I was HIV positive in June of 2000. I became sick right away. I had to take medications right away, and for quite a few years there I was really preparing to die, " Richard said Friday.
When Richard moved from San Francisco to Central Oregon in 2013, he was surprised by the lack of support groups for those living with HIV. So he decided to put together a social group and create a community for Central Oregonians suffering from the disease. He also spoke at schools and colleges to raise awareness about HIV.
"It is key to keep HIV in our dialogue and to keep it at the forefront of our conversations when it comes to health care," Richard said.
Richard said he doesn't think Central Oregon talks about HIV enough and there is still a stigma that surrounds it. He said he thinks that stigma often prevents people from getting tested for HIV.
Richard voiced how important it is for people to get tested for HIV on a regular basis, as HIV cases are still on the rise in Central Oregon.
"HIV doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care what color you are, how much money your have, what level your education is," Richard said.
Richard expressed feeling hopeful about the vaccine Picker is developing. He said advances in HIV research and medicine always give him hope.
He also said he fears that if people hear a new vaccine is being developed, they will not properly protect themselves from the disease. He stressed the importance of working to stay HIV-free, or working to contain the disease if you are HIV-positive.
For more information on HIV prevention, visit http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/