ABC’s hit drama Grey’s Anatomy, now in its sixth season, not only prescribes a weekly dose of doctor-on-doctor drama to its 20 million viewers. It also examines a wide variety of health issues, including HIV.

HIV has long been a subject on Grey’s Anatomy. A 2008 episode, for example, tackled mother-to-child transmission. For that story line, writers teamed with the Kaiser Family Foundation to study fictional TV’s potential to educate its real-life audience. The results? Viewer awareness that an HIV-positive woman on proper treatment can give birth to an HIV-negative baby increased four-fold after the episode aired.

But recently, writer and producer Zoanne Clack, MD, brought to the popular series a different type of awareness—an AIDS history lesson. The February 18 episode “The Time Warp” flashed back to the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s, when the virus was known as gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).

“We thought it was important that people be reminded of the way the disease was managed, the ostracism that it entailed, the initial denial of funding for its research, so that those trends are hopefully not repeated in the future,” says Meg Marinis, director of medical research on Grey’s Anatomy. “It was a great way to show people how far we’ve come but also how far we still need to go and how important of an issue it is.”