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AIDS research pioneer and many other AIDS researchers lost in MH17 incident

Aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Friday were what might have been 100 top AIDS researchers, now all assumed dead. The researchers were headed to the 20th International AIDS Conference that is set to begin in Melbourne, Australia on Sunday.

Debris from an Malaysia Airlines plane crash lies in a field on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed yesterday on the Ukraine/Russia border near the town of Shaktersk.
Debris from an Malaysia Airlines plane crash lies in a field on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed yesterday on the Ukraine/Russia border near the town of Shaktersk. Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Among those researchers was WHO’s spokesman, a Briton named Glenn Thomas, as well as Dutch AIDS researcher Joep Lange.

Though their deaths have not yet been confirmed by the airline, their presence on the plane has and it is assumed there are no survivors of the attack that the U.S. believes was carried out by a surface-to-air missile from Russian separatists.

In light of this great loss to the AIDS research community, the conference will continue as scheduled, with many of the attending mourning the loss, not only of friends, but some of the greats minds and influences in the AIDs research community.

Lange was very well known for his passion for making AIDS treatment available in low-income areas of the world, as well as researching ways to prevent the spread of AIDS from mother to baby. Lange was also a pioneer in the early days of AIDS research and also worked to make antiretroviral treatments available around the world. He was described as “as much activist as researcher” and a researcher “who really ‘got it’ in terms of human rights, equality and justice…”

The deaths of these researchers will undoubtedly impact the AIDS research community. Described as a ‘giant’ in his field, just the loss of Lange and his research is a huge blow. But among the 100 or so researchers on board could have been the cure to cancer.

Associate Professor Brian Owler, federal president of the Australian Medical Association, told TIME that these deaths will in fact deal a devastating blow to the AIDs research community. He stated, “The amount of time it takes to get to a stage where you can come up with those ideas cannot be replaced in a short amount of time. So it does set back work for a cure and strategic prevention of HIV/AIDS very significantly.”