THIS WEEK, SCIENTISTS from six continents attended a meeting to discuss what needed to be done
to bridge the gap between researchers and clinicians so that a cure for AIDS could become a reality.
The conference hosted by the journals Cell and The Lancet brought leading researchers and clinicians together to discuss recent findings that could bring hope to the estimated 35 million people world-wide who live with HIV.
Living with AIDS
Timothy Ray Brown, one of a small handful of people to have been successfully cured of HIV addressed the room full of doctors and scientists. Known as the “Berlin Patient, Timothy reflected on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of his journey toward being cured of HIV.
I am the first person in the world to be cured of HIV, but I know in my heart I’m not the last.
People around the world tell me my story is about hope… This hope can translate to a cure.
Keynote speaker Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in the US, began the meeting by suggesting that, for a cure to work,
it must be safe, simple and scalable.
He said that preventive strategies such as the expansion of HIV testing, circumcision, treatment as
prevention, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission was the best way forward to creating an AIDS-free world.
The possibility of a cure and the hope of a vaccine was discussed at the event.
Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology noted:
We need a vaccine, but we still don’t have an open road in front of us.
He added that scientists should not follow models of traditional vaccines but, rather, to “think about the extremely exciting observations that have been made about the kinds of antibodies that patients make in response to a long-term HIV infection”.
Speakers examined the various promising avenues toward developing an effective vaccine, including very recent work from Michel Nussenzweig and Dennis Burton on producing monoclonal broadly
neutralising antibodies in macaques.
Speakers at the event discussed some of the challenges they faced and what can be done for HIV patients who have been living with the disease for many decades.
Speakers said thatas patients age, they are faced with a new set of problems.
Steven Deeks, of the University of California, San Francisco, explains that, for long-term HIV patients, “despite unquestioned success, the risk of developing many morbidities remains higher than expected.”
HIV patients have an increased risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease and liver disease,
compared to the general population. Members of the audience at the conference who are living
with HIV noted that mental health concerns should also be prioritised for research and support in the community.
Closing the conference, Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said:
I’m here as a witness of 30 years of HIV science and translational research… We need to continue the effort of working together if we want to make progress toward a cure.