Many of the scientists from around the world attending the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., scheduled to convene on Sunday will examine what researchers say is the leading stumbling block to a cure for AIDS.
Highly effective AIDS drugs have reduced the viral load in people with HIV to undetectable levels, keeping them healthy and enabling most to live a full lifespan as long as they stick to their drug regimen.
But researchers say the anti-retroviral drugs that keep people with HIV healthy by preventing the virus from replicating currently cannot reach relatively low levels of virus that are capable of becoming dormant and embedded in “reservoirs” within certain cells in the human body.
“Even after all of the body’s active HIV has been eliminated, a missed dose of anti-retroviral drugs can allow the hibernating virus to emerge and ravage its host all over again,” according to an article in the July 17 issue of Science Daily.
The conference is scheduled to take place July 22-27 at the Washington Convention Center.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of AIDS research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that dozens of scientific presentations at the conference will likely focus on themes that address incremental steps, with the ultimate goal of developing an AIDS vaccine or a cure.
Fauci is scheduled to deliver the opening address at the conference on Monday. He said no major scientific breakthroughs are expected to emerge from the event.
“So rather than there being meetings where there are three or four scientific breakthroughs there really is a sort of consolidation or galvanization around a theme,” he said. “The theme of this meeting is “Turning the Tide Together.”
He said the title of his opening address is “Ending the AIDS Epidemic From Scientific Advances to Public Health Implementation.”
“And what you’re going to hear throughout the meeting is various iterations in different regions, in different populations, different demographic groups about the challenges – the biological, behavioral and other challenges – of getting that done,” Fauci said.
The conference website, aids2012.org, includes a list of all of the scientific papers scheduled to be presented at various panels and sessions as well as non-scientific sessions addressing public policy issues such as HIV prevention and treatment issues.
“The cure thing is going to be very basic, like understanding the nature of the HIV reservoir,” Fauci said. “Are there ways that we can eradicate that reservoir? If we can’t eradicate it are there ways we can either boost up the immune system or modify the host so that their cells are not susceptible to being infected?”
Jose Zuniga, president of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, which is sponsoring several conference-related events, said other leading topics expected to be addressed by AIDS researchers are use of AIDS drugs as a means of preventing HIV infection and the use of aggressive treatment programs as another mode of prevention.
The decision this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the use of the AIDS drug Truvada as an HIV prevention pill is expected to draw the attention of many conference participants. (See related story on Page 22.)