International experts on Thursday called for a renewed effort to cure AIDS, publishing a seven-step scientific strategy and introducing it at a press conference in Washington. The US capital is hosting next week’s 19th International AIDS Conference, which is expected to attract 25,000 scientists and advocates from around the world.
The strategy focuses on key issues including the reservoirs where HIV hides inside the body, and the few people who seem to have some natural resistance to the virus. The approaches being investigated - including gene therapy, immune treatments, and vaccines - would likely be most effective in combination with each other and antiretroviral therapy (ARVs).
Experts have lauded the world’s progress against the disease, with 8 million people in poor countries now receiving ARVs, and AIDS-related mortality falling in much of the world.
Even so, 34 million people worldwide are infected, and the cost of their treatment “is overwhelming many organizations and public health systems,” wrote scientists from the International AIDS Society. “It is estimated that for every HIV-infected person who starts antiretroviral therapy, two individuals are newly infected with HIV; this is clearly unsustainable.”
“The science has been telling us for some time now that achieving a cure for HIV infection could be a realistic possibility,” said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the co-discoverer of HIV and director of the regulation of retroviral infections unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. “The time is right to take the opportunity to try and develop an HIV cure.” She added, however, that the search for a cure should not be funded by cutting current prevention and treatment efforts.
Among promising developments is the case of Timothy Brown. The US leukemia patient received a stem cell transplant from an HIV-resistant donor and continues to appear free of disease years later. Also of note: the “Visconti cohort,” a group of HIV-infected patients in France who began treatment early and were able to stop it without the infection returning.
[PNU editor’s note: “Towards an HIV Cure: A Global Scientific Strategy” was published in Nature Reviews Immunology (doi:10.1038/nri3262); “Towards a Cure for HIV” was published in Nature (doi:10.1038/487293a).]
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