Science & Technology

AIDS expert to speak at ‘Voices from the Vanguard’ series

Athens, Ga. – Dr. José Esparza, an internationally recognized expert on HIV and AIDS, vaccine development and global health, will discuss his search for an AIDS vaccine as part of the “Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard” lecture series Feb. 11 in the University of Georgia Chapel.

Esparza will speak about both the science and his own experiences in a lecture titled “The long road to an HIV vaccine: a personal journey.” The 5:30 p.m. lecture will be followed by a reception, and both are free and open to the public.

A Venezuela native, Esparza joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2004 and serves as the senior adviser on vaccines. His research explores how new science can better contribute to the development and delivery of effective vaccines for global health.

Esparza earned his doctorate of medicine in 1968 at the University of Zulia in Venezuela and his doctorate in virology and cell biology in 1974 at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. During his time as a medical student in Venezuela, Esparza witnessed the impact of the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis epidemic that affected the local population. The experience ultimately convinced him to dedicate his professional life to the study of viruses.

His focus turned to AIDS in 1987, when the World Health Organization’s Global Programme on AIDS was established. Esparza became the chief of its biomedical research unit and, in time, focused all his efforts on facilitating the development and evaluation of HIV vaccines for developing countries. He eventually established and led the WHO/UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative.

Once he joined the Gates Foundation in Seattle, Esparza spearheaded the development of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and served as the president of its board. He also has driven the creation of the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery, a global collaborative research network that is exploring different approaches for the development of an HIV vaccine.

Esparza is a member of the Venezuelan Academy of Medicine and the Spanish Royal Academy of Doctors. He has served on scientific advisory committees around the world and is the author of more than 170 professional communications on virology, HIV/AIDS and vaccine development.

“José Esparza has worked tirelessly toward the development of a vaccine that can protect healthy people against HIV and AIDS,” said UGA journalism professor Patricia Thomas, who co-organizes the Voices from the Vanguard lectures. “We met 15 years ago, when I first began working on my book about the quest for an AIDS vaccine, and his insights were invaluable. I’m looking forward to getting an update from him now.”

The Voices from the Vanguard Lecture Series is a joint effort of the Grady College’s Health and Medical Journalism program and the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. The series continues March 18 with a presentation by Dr. Ben Park of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted drugs. The April 8 speaker will be Carol Etherington, MSN, RN, from Vanderbilt University Institute for Global Health.

For more information on the series, see