It's strange to think about the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) being the hottest ticket in town. But for the research community, CROI is in fact one of the more significant annual conferences on the latest HIV research. While no new groundbreaking discoveries seem to be scheduled for this year's conference being held in Boston March 4-7, the conference will still feature new research on basic science, clinical research, and epidemiology. Many of the studies being presented advance what we know about the HIV virus; how we can better care for people who are positive and help people at risk stay negative; and how we understand the social and spatial dynamics of transmission, prevention, and all the points along the care continuum.
Research for, by, and About Women
Research specific to women seems to be a large focus of CROI's presentations this year. Several studies being presented are exploring antiretrovirals' role in treating pregnant women and reducing the HIV reservoir in newborns, as well as how and when HIV-positive mothers should breastfeed. Data will also be presented on the efficacy of the dapirivine vaginal ring as a model of prevention in women. The study on the vaginal ring being presented is an open-label study that will provide information about how well it fares with women in real-world settings. This comes at a critical time when the National Institutes of Health has announced that it will not fund new studies for any biomedical prevention that is not comparable with tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada) in its effectiveness for prevention.
But not only studies will be focused on women. This year's annual Martin Delaney Presentation, "Women in Research: Science Is Better When Women Are Represented," will also feature a panel of women discussing the role of women as principle investigators and community advocates, as well as in mentoring the next generation of women in research.
Understanding HIV Transmission Patterns
New surveillance approaches that use molecular sequencing of the virus to understand connections between HIV infections among connected networks of people (called "phylogenetics") will also be presented at CROI. Presentations will include some research that analyzes transmission patterns in the U.S. as a whole and some that looks at specific cities or populations, including transgender women, whose risk factors and incidence and prevalence numbers are not well documented.
The opioid epidemic has become a major problem in the U.S., with opioids causing over 50,000 deaths in 2016 alone. A number of CROI presentations are dedicated to understanding how the spike in injection drug use is impacting HIV diagnoses among injection drug users. Research looking at the outcomes of various interventions for injection drug users will also be presented.
Improving Outcomes Along the HIV Care Continuum
The persisting HIV epidemic in the U.S. can largely be described as a failure to ensure that people living with HIV are diagnosed and receive the kind of sustained access to care necessary to achieve viral suppression. CROI will include several presentations that look for points of intervention along the HIV care continuum for different populations, and new data about novel approaches being implemented in some U.S. cities will be provided.
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