Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected T cell.

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected T cell.

Credit: NIAID

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. The destruction of these cells leaves people living with HIV vulnerable to other infections, diseases and other complications. As the leading U.S. government institute for HIV/AIDS research, NIAID is committed to conducting the research necessary to successfully end the fight against HIV/AIDS.  

Why Is the Study of HIV/AIDS a Priority for NIAID?

Nearly 37 million people are living with HIV around the world. In the United States, 1.2 million people are living with HIV, of whom 13 percent are unaware of their diagnosis. Although progress has been made in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, the epidemic continues in the United States and the international community. Globally, AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 45 percent since their peak in 2004. Yet the rate of HIV transmission remains unacceptably high, with 2.1 million new infections occurring worldwide in 2015 alone.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

NIAID-supported studies address all areas of HIV research, including developing and testing preventive HIV vaccines, prevention strategies, and new treatments for HIV and AIDS-related diseases. Through laboratories and clinics on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and a vast network of supported research at universities, medical centers, and clinical trial sites around the globe, NIAID is working to better understand HIV and how it causes disease, find new tools to prevent HIV infection including a preventive vaccine, develop new and more effective treatments for people living with HIV, and hopefully, find a cure.

To learn about risk factors for HIV/AIDS and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) HIV/AIDS site.


Preventing new HIV infections is a key step toward ending the HIV pandemic as we know it. NIAID-supported researchers have worked since the early days of AIDS in the 1980s to identify prevention tools to keep people healthy. Today, an array of prevention methods are available for use in combination or on their own, and scientists continue to work to develop and improve cutting-edge tools and techniques that can work to prevent HIV in diverse populations around the world.

Vaccine Development

Historically, vaccination has been the best method for protecting people from infectious diseases. While an array of techniques are available for preventing HIV infection, the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine remains key to realizing a durable end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. NIAID-supported scientists are working toward an HIV vaccine from two complementary angles: an empirical approach that quickly moves vaccine candidates into human testing, and a theoretical approach that designs vaccine candidates based on an understanding of the immune response to HIV infection.


One of NIAID’s greatest success stories is that its research led to the development of numerous antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, turning what was once a uniformly fatal disease into a manageable chronic condition for many. NIAID is working to find new and more effective therapeutic products, drug classes, and combinations as well as safe and effective treatments for dangerous related co-infections and complications.

Finding a Cure

NIAID is exploring therapies that suppress the amount of HIV to such low levels that an HIV-infected person would no longer need treatment because his or her immune system could keep the remaining virus in check, creating in essence a “functional cure.”

Clinical Trials

NIAID and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct ongoing clinical research on HIV infection and other immunological disorders. Read more about the active clinical trials below:

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Content last reviewed on December 20, 2018