Doctors Persaud and Luzuriaga, Featured on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Infuential People” List

Last week, Dr. Deborah Persaud, Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, and Dr. Hannah Gay were recognized as three of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2013.

David Despau/Time Magazine

You’d be hard-pressed to find medical professionals whose work is more celebrated and in the spotlight right now than Deborah Persaud, MD and Katherine Luzuriaga, MD. This year, in recognition of their groundbreaking work on what has been called the “Mississippi baby” study – the first documented case of a functional HIV cure in an infant – the doctors have been named to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list.

Dr. Persaud is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at The Johns Hopkins University and a 2005 recipient of the Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award (EGSA), while Dr. Luzuriaga is an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts and an EGSA winner from 1997.

When Dr. Persaud approached the podium to present her findings at this year’s Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), she could not have imagined the impact of her 20-minute presentation. In the weeks since the media erupted with news of a possible cure for HIV, Dr. Persaud and Dr. Luzuriaga have been catapulted to worldwide fame and recognition, as has Hannah Gay, MD, a research colleague on the study.

Commenting on the work of the three doctors, Global Fund Executive Director Mark Dybul captures the enormous impact their research will have in the effort to create an AIDS-free generation. “We scientists are trained to be careful about generalizing about one case. Yet, this result gives us more ammunition in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It adds substance to our conviction — not yet proven but heading in the right direction — that we can prevent this disease from infecting newborn babies.” Dr. Dybul was tapped to head the Global Fund in 2012, and was previously a member of EGPAF’s Board of Directors.

While researchers across the country attempt to place the revelation of a “functional cure” for HIV into context, Dr. Persaud is finalizing plans to move forward with a clinical trial of her early intervention method.

In an interview with EGPAF earlier this year, Persaud acknowledged the impact her research could have worldwide, but admitted to being stunned by the response to the news. “We did not anticipate the media attention,” she said. ”We really have to move very quickly to move this into the field. This has huge implications for treatment of HIV-infected infants globally.”

Already a leader within the field of pediatric HIV, Dr. Persaud pioneered the use of special hyper-sensitive tests to detect extremely low levels of HIV. In 2005, she received the EGSA for her research into detecting remission of HIV in young children.

Despite her recent fame, Persaud says she will always consider herself a clinician first, and continues to focus on eliminating pediatric HIV in the hopes of one day achieving a generation free of HIV and AIDS.

Time Magazine unveiled the official “100 Most Influential People” list on April 20. The list includes U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, activist Malala Yousafzai, and actress Jennifer Lawrence. Congratulations to Drs. Gay, Luzuriaga, and Persaud on being named to the list – and for the landmark research that put them there!

Chelsea Bailey is Communications Assistant for the Foundation, based in Washington, DC.