A staff picture of Jeffrey Lifson

Jeff Lifson, M.D., has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), joining 488 of his AAAS colleagues to be honored this year for their extraordinary achievements in advancing science. 

The new fellows were formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on Nov. 27. An induction ceremony for the new fellows will be held on Feb. 13 in a virtual Fellows Forum. 

“Jeff has been a leading light in the HIV field for decades,” said Leonard Freedman, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at the Frederick National Laboratory (FNL). “He and his group have been responsible for both important research discoveries as well as the generation of critical reagents used by the entire international HIV research community. Jeff is highly deserving of recognition as a fellow of the AAAS.” 

Lifson is Director of the AIDS and Cancer Virus Program at FNL and is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers. In addition, Lifson has broadly influenced the field through collaboration with scientists and laboratories across the country and around the world. He actively shares unique enabling capabilities developed at FNL with other laboratories to help drive progress in the field. 

“He is an effective and committed mentor, supporting and fostering the professional development of younger scientists who have achieved independent status as rising stars in AIDS research, including Drs. Jake Estes, Brandon Keele, and Gregory Del Prete,” wrote FNL Laboratory Director and AAAS Fellow Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., in his nomination letter. 

Early work help establish blood screen for HIV 

Lifson’s AIDS work began shortly after the emergence of what was then a new disease. In the early 1980s as a fellow at Stanford Medical School Blood Center, Lifson was instrumental in establishing and managing the first program in the nation aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV through blood transfusions – even before HIV was identified as the causative agent for AIDS – using then-cutting-edge flow cytometry methods to screen donated blood. At the time, tens of thousands of hemophiliacs and transfusion recipients were contracting HIV through donated blood and no screening test existed to prevent the use of contaminated blood. 

Once HIV was identified as the causative agent for AIDS, Lifson went on to perform landmark studies detailing interactions between the AIDS virus and receptor molecules of the immune system and to develop extremely sensitive tests for the presence of the virus in blood. This new approach of viral load testing based on quantitation of HIV RNA in the blood brought about a new understanding of the disease. 

“The new analytical methods revealed continuous active viral replication throughout the course of HIV infection, setting the stage for understanding viral dynamics and providing the rationale for implementing early combination antiretroviral treatment when more effective drugs became available,” Dmitrovsky wrote. These combination therapies have helped transform AIDS into a chronic and largely manageable disease for many patients. 

Current research in Lifson’s laboratory centers on evaluation of vaccines and on efforts to identify and therapeutically target places in the body that are not cleared of the virus with current therapies. Because of this, patients must continue treatment indefinitely to avoid viral resurgence and the onset of disease symptoms. 

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Lifson was recently elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. He serves on the editorial boards for a number of scientific journals and on advisory committees, including the NIAID Aids Vaccine Research Subcommittee and many NIH-funded and international research consortia, as well as the United States Military HIV Research Program. 

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