In 1983 and 1984 scientists established that HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) causes AIDS, which had recently begun cropping up in gay men in California and New York. The discovery quickly led to predictions that a preventive vaccine would soon be on tap. Similarly, in 1996, after powerful drug combinations began forcing HIV down to undetectable levels in the blood, prominent HIV researcher David D. Ho of the Rockefeller University voiced optimism that attacking the virus early and hard could prove curative.

Yet neither a vaccine nor a cure has materialized. Indeed, the most promising vaccine prospects have failed. And when aggressive treatment stops, the wily virus comes roaring back.

Where do we go from here? SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN asked two leading HIV researchers to address the biggest scientific challenges facing the field today: Is finding a vaccine even possible? And what, exactly, would it take to rid a person's body of HIV and thus effect a cure? Their frank, thought-provoking answers follow.