amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

However Did I Get Here?

amfAR Institute Researcher: Rachel Rutishauser, M.D., Ph.D.

Rachel Rutishauser, M.D, PhD Clinical FellowRachel Rutishauser, M.D., Ph.D. Clinical Fellow, UCSF School of MedicineI first started thinking deeply about HIV when David Ho was named Man of the Year in TIME magazine (1996). I was 15 at the time. I vividly remember sitting at my kitchen table, engrossed in the article, so amazed that science had uncovered treatment for a disease that had been globally devastating and almost universally fatal. Those two things—the fact that HIV ravaged the body so thoroughly, and the fact that in such a short period of time so many people’s lives had been truly saved as a result of scientific discovery—really intrigued me.

I started getting involved in lab research (neuroscience) that summer, but in college I worked in an immunology lab. I was studying basic immunology (T cell migration) but my lab was located at the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and I interacted with many HIV researchers and physicians and physician-scientists who cared for HIV-infected individuals.

I had the opportunity to shadow one of them at a community clinic in Cambridge, MA. The second I set foot in that clinic, I knew I was home. The patients, the clinic staff, the doctors—I knew they were all my people.

As I went through medical school, this sense grew stronger. I really love my clinical work. I feel very deeply that it’s important to provide thorough, comprehensive medical care to my patients in the context of a clinic that provides a good social safety net. I am drawn to the complexities that come up when caring for folks with HIV who are disproportionately faced with all sorts of challenges (poverty, mental illness, stigma around sexuality, drug use, their medical status, etc.).

“I really love the research I’m doing right now. But it is tough!”

I did a Ph.D. in the middle of my medical training, and focused on mechanisms of anti-viral immunity in mouse models. When I returned to the lab after finishing med school, residency, and my first year of infectious disease fellowship, given my clinical interests and my immunology background, it made sense to me to apply the knowledge I had acquired from my Ph.D. work to the setting of human HIV infection.

I really love the research I’m doing right now. But it is tough! One of the things that keeps me motivated is remembering that close to 50% of my patients at SFGH have detectable HIV viral loads. The availability of ART is just not sufficient—we really need a cure.