When Marty Rosen heard about Dr. Yuntao Wu’s ”groundbreaking” HIV research at George Mason University in Fairfax, she traveled from New York City to discuss the virologist’s findings in person.
”I was in his lab…sitting in a small room, watching the same interaction, over and over again, and parsing it endlessly,” says Rosen, the 52-year-old founder of New York City’s annual Empire State AIDS Ride (ESAR), of Wu’s work, which focuses on the interaction of the HIV and CD4 T cells.
”On the surface, it’s not very sexy research,” Rosen adds, noting that it is nonetheless ”groundbreaking.”
”For the past six years,” she continues, ”[Wu] has been looking at how the virus enters the T cell and what happens once the virus is inside that eventually causes the human immune system to fall apart.”
According to Rosen, who worked as health reporter when the AIDS epidemic first hit in the 1980s, most HIV/AIDS research is focused on vaccination.
”Wu started looking at one very basic question about the interaction between the virus and the T cell, and in the process of doing so, went in a very different direction from vaccine research. It’s incredibly complicated.”
Wu will explain his discovery — and why it could lead to a cure — in an essay he is currently finalizing, tentatively slated to be published in Cell magazine this fall.
”We haven’t finished the paper,” says Wu. ”It has to go through a [scientific-review] process. That’s why we are not talking too much…. We’re still waiting on their final decision.”
Rosen, meanwhile, has taken the lead to help Wu raise enough money to fund the next stage of his research.
”Without the money, what would happen is once the paper was published at the end of the year, then he would begin the process of seeking funding so that he could move on to the next level of research,” Rosen explains. ”What we’re doing is coming up with the money now so that in September he will have it and it will accelerate the research.”
To accomplish the goal, Rosen has made Wu the main beneficiary of her upcoming NYCDC AIDS Ride, a four-day, 330-mile bicycle sojourn. The ride is scheduled to begin in New York City on Friday, Sept. 12, and end in Washington Sept. 15. Registration has already opened for the ride, which has a goal of raising $200,000 in seed money to sponsor Wu’s research.
The NYCDC AIDS Ride is limited to 75 riders, who must pay $100 upon registration and raise at least $2,200 by the close of registration, Sept. 12.
Like the Empire State AIDS Ride (ESAR), which in the past five years has raised more than $2 million dollars for AIDS research, NYCDC will follow a similar model, with more than 80 percent of the funds raised going towards the designated cause.
Rosen’s involvement in fighting AIDS was seeded while she was covering the epidemic in Florida, where she was impacted by a ”haunting experience.”
”You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing young men who were wasting away,” she recalls. ”You’d see these incredibly young guys just withering under your eyes…. It was really horrible.”
By 2000, Rosen, who was then writing for the New York Daily News, had a hard time getting AIDS-related stories published in the paper.
”At the time, there was donor [and] reader fatigue,” she says. ”People didn’t want to hear about it. Protease inhibitors had come out, and it was beginning to turn AIDS into a chronic disease.”
While searching for new ways to cover what was happening with AIDS at the time, Rosen signed up for an AIDS Ride from Boston to New York. She found her calling. A few years later, Rosen launched the Empire State AIDS Ride.
Local resident Tim Weinheimer, who has participated in ESAR over the past several years, has already signed up for NYCDC and has recruited 10 other local riders.
”We expect that number grow,” he says. ”Anybody interested can join in the effort here with us in D.C. I’ve ridden a bike to fight AIDS for over eight years now. There have been a lot of drastic advancements made, but there is still no cure. So [I] will keep peddling until we get to that point.”
For the upcoming NYCDC ride, Weinheimer, who is gay, plans to host training sessions. He urges people — even cycling neophytes — to join, saying that the experience ”will guarantee someone four days that they will treasure forever. They’ll find many new friends who care about the cause as much as they do.”
To register for NYCDC, visit www.nycdc.org. To join Tim Weinheimer’s group or for more information, call 202-580-9386.