Hopes of a cure for HIV

Published 2013-09-04 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:33

[PRESS INVITATION 27 August 2013] In the past few years, the hopes of finding a cure for HIV have been growing within the scientific community. At a forthcoming conference hosted by Karolinska Institutet, some of the world's leading experts in the field will be discussing the medical possibilities for a cure for HIV.

Reports came from the USA in the spring about a baby with HIV who was put on very early intensive antiviral medication. As a result, the virus stopped replicating and the baby was declared effectively healthy. Following transplantation of immune cells from an healthy donor into an HIV-positive man in Berlin, traces of the virus disappeared in blood. Cases such as these have raised scientists' hopes of a cure for HIV. The conference will be opened by Professor Steven Deeks from the University of California, San Francisco, one of the worlds most active and influential researchers in the search for a cure for HIV.

Modern drugs arrest the progress of the disease, but even after effective treatment the virus remains in the body, lying dormant in cellular reservoirs in the brain and lymphoid tissues ready to re-activate if the treatment is discontinued. Researchers are now examining two strategies for curing HIV. One is to activate the virus present in the reservoirs to expose it to antiviral drugs; professors Sharon Lewin, Monash University, Melbourne, and Robert Siliciano, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, are two of the experts on this approach who will be addressing the conference. The other is to strengthen the patients own immune system so that it can attack the virus in the reservoirs itself. This can be done with "therapeutic vaccines", vaccines given to already infected individuals. Yves Levy, ANRS HIV vaccine program, Paris, will be speaking on this second approach.

The current trend in treatment methods is also towards intervening with medication as soon as possible after primary infection in order to prevent the reservoirs forming in the first place. A new study suggests that this line of attack might work, and will be the subject of a talk by Professor Christine Rouzioux, Université Paris Descartes.

HIV research has made great strides since the discovery of the disease in the early 1980s, and today treatment is so efficacious that many people with the virus can live a virtually normal life.

"The drugs are miracles, and everyone with HIV in the world should be given them," says Francesca Chiodi, professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology and co-arranger of the conference with Johan Sandberg, professor at the Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet (Huddinge). "The problem is that medication is life-long. It is also extremely costly, and many countries lack the resources to provide it. So these drugs are not the final solution."

The conference is being arranged by the Centre for HIV Research at Karolinska Institutet, a virtual centre for scientific collaboration set up a year ago. The conference will be officially opened by Professor Anders Hamsten, president of Karolinska Institutet.

Reporters are invited to attend the conference and interview the researchers.

  • Conference: Towards a Cure for HIV: From Pathogenesis to Eradication
  • When: Thursday 5 - Friday 6 September, 2013
  • Where: Nobel Forum, Nobels väg 1, Karolinska Institutet Campus Solna

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