Twenty-five years is a long time in science.

In the world of HIV research, 25 years have transformed our understanding of the virus. We now have antiretroviral drugs that stop HIV from developing into AIDS and, when used prophylactically, can prevent infection. Scientists have tested an experimental HIV vaccine that shows partial efficacy and are hoping to improve this effect.

Twenty-five years is a particularly impressive time period when studying people. It can be difficult enough to maintain participants’ interest in studies lasting mere months, let alone years, and maintaining grant funding over decades takes perseverance. This month, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center virologist Dr. Julie Overbaugh and her collaborators in Kenya and the U.S. celebrated the 25th anniversary of a unique group of HIV research participants — high-risk women in Mombasa, Kenya — who helped change the landscape of HIV transmission research. The first participants enrolled in February 1993.

“It continues even now to shed light on factors that drive risk. These studies in turn provide opportunities to design ways to prevent new HIV infections, which is the ultimate goal of this work.”

In Kenya, HIV is primarily transmitted through heterosexual contact, and women are at higher risk than men. This is reflected in the makeup of the Mombasa Cohort — women at high risk of contracting HIV from male sexual partners — because the researchers wanted to address issues most relevant to the community, said Dr. Jared Baeten, vice chair of Global Health at the University of Washington. Baeten trained in Kenya as an M.D./Ph.D. graduate student and did much of his early research with the Mombasa Cohort.

Read more about HIV research in Kenya by Sabrina Richards at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center