Top HIV Researchers Meet to Make Progress on an HIV Cure

More than 210 international scientists will meet Dec. 6-9 for the International Workshop on HIV Persistence, Reservoirs & Eradication Strategies. The workshop is supported by the American National Institute of Health (NIH) and the French Agency for AIDS Research (ANRS).

"We are very excited by the fact that all top scientists involved in the quest of an HIV cure will be there," says Alain Lafeuillade ofToulon, France, cofounder of the workshop with Mario Stevenson of Miami.

The workshop will begin on Dec. 6 by a satellite symposium titled "Unique Challenges and Opportunities for Eradication of Brain HIV-1 Reservoirs" organized by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In the following days, sessions will discus the animal models of HIV persistence, the virological and immunological factors at play, and the development of new therapeutic strategies to reach a functional or a sterilizing HIV cure.

"It is a unique program, involving researchers from America, Europe and Australia, and the abstracts we have received show that the field is moving quickly," Lafeuillade says. The workshop will combine state-of-the-art lectures and more than 60 presentations of yet unpublished data as oral or poster publications.

Several NIH representatives will attend the workshop, as well as members of the "Toward an HIV Cure" initiative from the International AIDS Society (IAS). The IAS will convene their group twice during the workshop to prepare the scientific strategy towards an HIV cure to be launched in Washington in July 2012.

"With the case of the Berlin patient we now know that an HIV cure is achievable, but we have to find strategies which are scalable" Doctor Lafeuillade ays.

The Berlin patient was declared cured from HIV a year ago after receiving two bone marrow transplants for acute leukemia. The bone marrow donor exhibited a rare defect on the CCR5 coreceptor that HIV uses to enter cells. Researchers working in the U.S. on "zinc finger nucleases" to mimick the CCR5 defect will detail their latest advances at the workshop.

Another approach to a cure is purging residual HIV reservoirs with drugs capable of acting on latently-infected cells. Trials have already started with Histone Deacetylase inhibitors, disulfiram and bryostatin. Their preliminary results will also be published at the workshop.

But the workshop is not all about therapy and basic science will represent an important part of it. "It is still necessary to increase our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the maintenance of HIV reservoirs during effective antiretroviral therapy," Lafeuillade says, "that is why the NIH and the NIAID recently awarded $14 million/year for research on eradication of HIV through the Martin Delaney Collaboratory."