A missile, a plane crash and a profound loss to AIDS research

Unfortunately, the biggest news coming out of the 20th International AIDS Conference involves the researchers who were killed on their way there.

This year, organizers are holding the conference from July 20 to 25 in Melbourne, Australia. It has already been the site of some encouraging research announcements. We've highlighted one in this week's FierceDiagnostics, about a biomarker that might help spot patients who would respond best to a promising new HIV vaccine.

But on July 17, before the conference even began, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was apparently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, killing everyone on board. As Nature noted on July 19, at least 6 distinguished delegates on their way to the conference were among the dead.

It's been said often already, and yet can't be said enough--every death on that plane was pointless, horrible and tragic, a profound loss for all the family, friends and colleagues they left behind.

But everyone also loses, due to the death of those AIDS Conference delegates.

These people were giants in the field who helped further the research considerably over the years. They brought treatments to poor countries and helped achieve advances such as female condoms, which can prevent HIV infection. Others promoted the work and did their part to educate the public about the successes in the field.

The conference is going on, and by the time it is over, organizers will be able to cite many new advances (and obstacles) in combating both the spread of HIV and AIDS.

At the same time, though, the Malaysia Airlines crash on July 17 has already cast a pall over this. Great minds and health advocates are gone, and can never be replaced. That is perhaps an obvious thing to say, but the life sciences field should collectively take a moment to consider the void that's been left in HIV/AIDS research and advocacy. -- Mark Hollmer (email | Twitter)