Here's the interview:
Right now I am in program devoted to find a vaccine against the HIV disease. To find a preventive vaccine to give to teenagers before they start having sexual relationships to avoid any possible infection. On the other side, one of the biggest problems we are presently facing is the treatment, once you've been infected. It needs to be done daily and you have to take lots of pills, which might have side effects, and it is expensive and difficult. So, if we had a proper vaccine that would eliminate the illness right away, we could avoid all those demanding lifelong treatments. IThis is called a therapeutic vaccine. Basically, our main investigation is developing this two types of vaccines.
I believe that, on one hand, the creation of a new vaccine for a cure or an eradication of the disease. On the other hand, we have still a lot to improve on preventing and diagnosing. Sometimes, people think HIV/AIDS is only an African problem, but it isn't. In our setting, the same amount of people is getting HIV today than twenty years ago... Then, there is a huge quantity of people not diagnosed that is spreading the disease to many others. This chain goes over and over. There's a problem here. Finally, there are the money issues.
There is still a large number of countries that despite the existence of effective therapy, it is not available. Because there is no enough money to afford it, because there is not enough infrastructure... A lot of people is dying, when they shouldn't be, just for the simple reason that they can't afford the treatment.
Really badly (laughs)! Here, the social security has made it to still pay for the treatment, so that is a good thing for the patients, but the investigation has gone to the background. The money invested in research has gone dramatically down. And we notice that. You spend a huge amount of your time and potential writing down research proposals to apply to the government calls to receive money (and you may not eve win it), instead of working and progressing on your projects. Other countries have managed to kept the investigation levels, but ours (Spain) has been specially damaged. Lately, we have been focusing on getting private donations. There are many rich people who is willing to donate a decent quantity of money or freely or by investing on it.
Medicine, of course, doesn't have the answer for everything. And I wanted to find a solution for some of those questions. On my speciality (intern medicine) I could focus on oncology or infectious diseases. When I went to a laboratory in the USA, I was specially attracted by the HIV investigation. It was an illness that had been found recently, on the eighties, and it still had a lot of work and improvement to do. I came back and I heard about Irsicaixa where I could combine being a researcher with being a doctor. I was allowed to do both thing. Because, I firmly believe that my medical work improves my research and that my research helps me on my medical work
Oh, you know, we do nothing... Just kidding! I go from the clinic, where I treat the patients, the laboratory and the computer. On this last years we have developed a vaccine that we have been testing on animals, and it seems to be working, So now, we'll try to test in humans. . There is a lot of analyzing (why did my experiment succeed or not succeed, what do I need to change, what was wrong...) and a lot of reading (there are many investigators around the world who are doing their research and you need to keep up with all their work and ideas). It is a really dynamic job where you are constantly learning and studying and improving. You need to love that.
A vaccine (laughs)! Or at least, that our investigation helps to someday be able to develop a vaccine. I mean, I don't know if we will find it - probably not... - but I hope that all the work we do will be useful for future researchers and that one day we will all have a cure for the disease.
Well, study. Study a lot. And, primarily, love what you do.
And finally, I would like to send a massive thank you to Bea and her colleagues for letting me in the Irsicaixa laboratories and for her kind patience and help. Really, thank you.
Interesting webpages to check out: