20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)


Setbacks and Progress in the Search for an HIV Cure

July 22, 2014

Françoise Barré-Sinnousi, Sharon Lewin, and Deborah Persaud (Credit: Liz Highleyman)

Françoise Barré-Sinnousi, Sharon Lewin, and Deborah Persaud (Credit: Liz Highleyman)

The quest for a cure for HIV has been one of the themes at the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) taking place this week in Melbourne, with scientists reporting both advances and setbacks.

Jintanat Ananworanich, formerly of the Thai Red Cross and now with the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, gave an overview of "Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going?" with cure research at an opening plenary on Monday.

After reviewing some special cases that offer proof-of-concept that it may be possible to control HIV at least temporarily without antiretroviral therapy (ART) -- including the Berlin Patient, the Boston Patients, and the Mississippi Baby -- she concluded that success will likely require a combination approach, for example, early ART, agents that overcome viral latency, gene therapy to protect CD4 cells from infection, and therapies that strengthen immune response.

Researchers also discussed cure-related work in oral abstract sessions at the main conference and at a two-day pre-conference "Towards an HIV Cure" symposium organized by the International AIDS Society (IAS). Several of them summarized their findings and offered their thoughts about future directions at an IAS press briefing on Monday.


Deborah Persaud from Johns Hopkins gave an update on the Mississippi Baby (now a child nearly four years old) who just before the conference was found to still have HIV after having no detectable virus while off ART for more than two years. This case suggests that HIV establishes latent reservoirs very early -- the child started treatment just 30 hours after birth -- and even a few remaining infected cells are enough to rekindle viral replication.

Though disappointing for the child, who has resumed antiretroviral treatment and is in good health, Persaud said, "we have learned a lot from this case and it provides a strong rationale for moving forward with a clinical trial" of very early combination therapy for infants.

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Please note: Knowledge about HIV changes rapidly. Note the date of this summary's publication, and before treating patients or employing any therapies described in these materials, verify all information independently. If you are a patient, please consult a doctor or other medical professional before acting on any of the information presented in this summary. For a complete listing of our most recent conference coverage, click here.


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