David Ho

David Ho umanity's future dimmed several diopters when the AIDS epidemic cast the specter of an invariably fatal disease spreading like wildfire from population to population. David Ho came to the rescue in 1996 by releasing a "cocktail" of antiretroviral drugs that managed to exploit vulnerabilities in the virus' replication mechanism. Ho also quelled global panic by showing that human saliva simply doesn't contain enough HIV virus to transmit AIDS.

     The feat won Ho the 1996 Time's Man of the Year honor. That was followed by countless others, including ten honorary doctorates, the Presidential Medal in 2001, the Ernst Jung Prize in Medicine, and the Squibb Award. Ho was even mentioned alongside Alexander Fleming (Nobel Prize winner for discovery of penicillin) as a nominee for the 1999 Person of the Century. He lost out only to Albert Einstein.

     David Ho was born on November 3, 1952 in Taichung, Taiwan to a poor, but respectable family. Ho's father, Paul worked as an engineer with high aspirations for his children, giving his first son (David) the name Da-I, meaning "Great One." When David was just three years old, his father left for the United States where he hoped to establish a more promising life for his family. Nine years later, David's father would send for his wife and two sons.

     From an early age Ho showed unusual promise in math and science. Long after the school bell, he sat in the classroom doing advanced work and spent his free time in his private "scientific laboratory" aka the family's garage. Others assumed that Ho was just following family tradition as many of his relatives worked in science-related jobs.

     Ho sees more than genetic predisposition behind his early interest in math and science. He came to the States without knowing the basics of the English alphabet as his father insisted that he learn English in the States so his son wouldn't develop an accent. The language barrier made Ho an outcast among his schoolmates during his first months here. He found refuge in math. "People get to this new world, and they want to carve out their place in it," he told Time. "The result is dedication and a higher level of work ethic."

     Within six months, Ho's English was fluent enough to break the barrier with his classmates and his interest in basketball helped him to establish a social niche. Academically, it wasn't long before Ho surpassed his peers and won an acceptance letter from MIT. After a short year on the east coast, he transferred to Caltech where he received his bachelors degree in physics in 1974 with highest honors.

     Ho soon developed a new fascination for molecular biology. Tantalized by cutting-edge advances in gene splicing, Ho headed back to the east coast for an MD from Harvard-MIT in Health Science and Technology.


     During his residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Ho came into contact with some of the first reported cases of AIDS. The disproportionately large number of homosexual men with the same unusual combination of symptoms caught Ho's attention. During those years the mysterious affliction prompted diagnoses ranging from allergies to substance abuse to sexually transmitted diseases. Ho came to suspect that the deaths resulted from a bacterial or viral infection that destroyed the body's immune system. That insight would become the basis of his successful cocktail approach to fighting HIV.

     Ho lives with his wife, artist Susan Kuo, and their three children in Chappaqua, New York where he makes his residence. Despite his fluency and command of the English language Ho still performs his mathematical calculations in Chinese.

     Today Ho conducts his research as director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. He and his team are working on a vaccine to prevent HIV from developing into full-blown AIDS.

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