HIV and aging advocate Stephen Karpiak has passed

UPDATE: A virtual memorial service for Stephen Karpiak is set for Sunday, November 21, 1–2:30p.m. ET:

An early leader in the research of aging and HIV, Stephen Karpiak, PhD, passed on Oct. 16. In a career that spanned more than two decades, his research led to a shift in the care for people living with HIV, drawing attention to their needs.

Since 2017, he had been senior director for applied and translational research at GMHC’s Center on HIV & Aging, and was the founding director of GMHC’s National Resource Center on HIV and Aging.

“Older adults living with HIV dominate the [HIV] epidemic,” wrote Dr. Karpiak in an article he wrote for a 2019 special issue of Positively Aware focused on aging and HIV. “It is time to acknowledge this reality.”

Dr. Karpiak began his career at Columbia University Medical School, conducting research on seizure and behavioral disorders, earning recognition for his work on how the brain adapts and repairs itself following injury and stroke. 

In 2002, he joined ACRIA (formerly AIDS Community Research Initiative of America), a nonprofit HIV/AIDS research, education, and prevention organization, where he launched the Research on Older Adults with HIV (ROAH) studies and oversaw clinical studies of HIV drugs.

Friends and fellow advocates were saddened by the news.

“Steve was such a great guy and a visionary in HIV and aging as well as LGBTQ+ aging,” said Sean Cahill, PhD, director of public policy at Boston’s Fenway Institute.

“He became my mentor, teacher, friend, sounding board, and, eventually, a colleague. An elder in the truest sense of that word,” said Tez Anderson, founder of Let’s Kick ASS, in San Francisco. “He always was the kindest, wisest voice in any room.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Karpiak shared with a few close friends and colleagues that he was making a significant life change and relocating to California to be with family, friends and colleagues, a long-time goal of his. “This will allow me to focus on data analyses, writing, lecturing and collaborating. My passion for the issue of HIV/Aging remains,” he said in an email.

“Steve was a leader, a giant, in the area of HIV and aging, and was doing the work long before many people even had it on their radar,” said Positively Aware editor Jeff Berry. “His passion for the work was painstakingly obvious, and it was clear from the moment you met him that he was fiercely committed to making a difference for people aging with HIV.

“He made me want to work harder, be better, and learn more, just by being around him. He would sometimes speak so softly that you had to lean in to hear him speak, and you did, because you didn’t want to miss a word he had to say.

“He will be greatly missed.”

Update: A virtual memorial is set for Sunday, Nov. 21, 1–2:30p. ET. Details to come.