AIDS researcher Hahn discusses disease's origins

To understand where AIDS is going, scientists are eager to learn where it came from.

Dr. Beatrice Hahn, professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, noted AIDS researcher and 2005 recipient of the Southwestern Medical Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professorship Honoring Women in Science and Medicine, has successfully delineated the origins of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to a specific population of chimpanzees in central Africa. From there, she is eager to map the jump from chimps to humans.

Her March visit to UT Southwestern was organized by the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee (WISMAC) and highlighted by her lecture, "Tracing the Origins of the AIDS Pandemic." The lecture was part of the University Lecture Series, a weekly seminar series that brings the foremost biomedical researchers to campus.

Dr. Hahn's distinction, beyond the discovery that HIV-1 originated in chimpanzees, is that HIV-2 originated in the primate sooty mangabey. Both viruses cause AIDS but differ in virulence as well as geographic epicenter.

Determining the differences between HIV-1 and HIV-2 is paramount to understanding how HIV spreads and leads to AIDS and will enable researchers to better design drugs and vaccines to combat this worldwide epidemic.

Through her blend of bench research and collaborative field research, Dr. Hahn has earned numerous awards and honors, including one of the 100 Most Cited Scientists in Microbiology and Immunology and one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science by Discover.

"Dr. Hahn was an excellent choice for this professorship because her outstanding research has broad appeal to basic and clinical scientists and to clinicians at UT Southwestern," said Dr. Carole Mendelson, professor of biochemistry and co-chair of WISMAC. "Her energy and enthusiasm for research and her success as a physician-scientist provided an excellent role-model for the many students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty with whom she interacted during her two-day visit to our campus."

The Distinguished Visiting Professorship was started in 1995 to enhance the visibility of women in science and medicine. The professor's visit includes opportunities not only to meet with scientists at UT Southwestern, but students and postdoctoral fellows as well. The 2006 recipient will be Dr. Carla Shatz, chair of neurobiology at Harvard University, for her work on development of the nervous and visual systems.

In addition to the Distinguished Visiting Professorship, WISMAC, a standing committee consisting of faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral fellows, provides advice and initiative on issues related to women in science and medicine. More information about WISMAC can be found at

"Dr. Hahn's visit to the university raises the visibility of successful female physicians and scientists," said Dr. Susanne Mumby, associate professor of pharmacology and co-chair of WISMAC. "Her visit provided not only an opportunity to hear about her exciting research, but also provided an excellent example for our trainees."