Gov. George Deukmejian toured a University of California AIDS research laboratory here Thursday and--despite being told a vaccine is 10 years away--said he is “encouraged” by scientists’ progress in understanding the disease.
Deukmejian visited several labs where researchers study the deadly virus and, at one point, looked through a microscope at diseased cells taken from the mouth lesion of an AIDS patient.
The Republican governor received a frank--and sometimes explicit--briefing from UC scientists about their many advances in understanding the sexually transmitted disease. But the research team also told Deukmejian that it will take at least a decade to develop a vaccine for AIDS.
At the end of the tour, Deukmejian told reporters crowded around him in an AIDS research lab, “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve heard here today about the progress that is being made and I think there is a considerable amount of optimism that the research is certainly heading in the right direction.”
Asked for More Money
During the briefing, UC scientists stressed the need for continued state financing of research efforts. Afterward, one leading scientist told reporters the Deukmejian Administration should be spending more money on AIDS research.
“It’s being underfunded, and certainly, if it’s being underfunded, our progress is greatly compromised,” said Dr. Jay Levy, who was one of the first scientists to isolate the AIDS virus.
Deukmejian is proposing an increase of $8 million in state funds during the next fiscal year to combat the disease, including $2 million more for research through the University of California, one of the nation’s leading AIDS research institutions. Deukmejian’s proposal would bring state AIDS spending to $26.6 million.
Last week, the Deukmejian Administration released a detailed study of acquired immune deficiency syndrome that predicted the number of AIDS victims would jump from 4,100 now to 30,000 by the end of 1990. The cost of treating AIDS and related illnesses will reach $5 billion during the same period, the study estimated.
Deukmejian told reporters he is “pleased that the state has been able to play a useful role in trying to provide the resources that are necessary.”
Last year, Deukmejian was criticized by Democratic legislators for vetoing $11.6 million in additional AIDS funds. He later agreed to restore $5 million, saying that was all the money scientists could properly use at the time.
Levy used the occasion of Deukmejian’s visit to plead for continued financial support saying, “Governor, we really need the money.”
Later, Levy told reporters that Deukmejian’s proposed $2-million increase in research funds for next year is not sufficient to keep pace with the expanding needs of AIDS research. Although that was the amount requested by the university, recent discoveries have demonstrated new avenues of research and an even greater need for resources, he said.
“I think that $2 million for research is not sufficient,” he said. “We’re identifying the virus in more situations than we imagined. We’re seeing it changing at a rate that needs more molecular studies. We’ve got to get on with the vaccine.”
Levy said the laboratory he directs at the university is running a deficit of $150,000 this year. He is faced either with finding more funds, he said, or slowing the pace of his work.
“We know there is a need for more money,” Levy said. “We’d be happy to provide an estimate of what that is if we thought that would lead to increased allotments from the state.”
At the AIDS lab, Deukmejian was again questioned by reporters about his Administration’s proposal that health officials be given authority to conduct mandatory testing of potential AIDS victims for the presence of antibodies to the disease. Deukmejian reiterated that he is not proposing “indiscriminate” testing of members of the public.