Matt Sharp’s life for the past three plus decades has been devoted to advocacy and activism for HIV/AIDS—helping those diagnosed and at risk, not to mention living with the virus himself.
“It’s kind of a fascinating story, when I look back at it.”
Sharp had a full career as a classical ballet dancer. After high school in the late 1970s, Matt went to the School of American Ballet New York City and trained with George Balenchine. Sharp danced with regional and international dance companies, from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia to Zurich, Switzerland. He started hearing about HIV by the time he got to Oklahoma City, and was dancing with a ballet company there when he was diagnosed in 1988. He has since set up roots in the Bay Area, and works as an independent educator on HIV activism and awareness.
Sharp was in the eye of the storm of the HIV epidemic, and early on, Matt was frightened by how little was known about what HIV was, and why more was not being done about it.
“You know, we didn’t know what to believe at the time, it was a very strange time, there was something hitting our community, people were dying. We were very frightened, of course. As our communities were becoming affected by HIV and AIDS at the time, I was one of those people who wanted answers.”
As he sought out answers, Matt found out he is what is called an immunologic nonresponder; aside from the virus itself, Matt was especially vulnerable and susceptible to other illnesses, due to his immunologic resistance to the treatments. As he coped with his diagnosis, Matt was able to develop a regimen that allowed him to feel stable, and virtually healthy enough to work and go to the gym daily.
Sharp heard of and enrolled in a stem cell trial in San Francisco, which was one of the first times the treatment had been introduced in human beings. He became acquainted with Jeff Sheehy at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and has continued his work with CIRM and Americans for Cures.
Matt is optimistic about the future as far as stem cell research is concerned.
”Many of us thought there would never be a cure for HIV because the virus gets into to DNA of people’s cells, and so the conventional wisdom that you could never be cured of AIDS/HIV”
Being involved for so long, Matt is confident that the day will come for a cure. He wants to see that day.
“There is something that drives me, and I guess it’s just that we’re not there yet. Until we will, I’ll keep on working.”