HIV researchers present some of the most important and cutting-edge studies each year at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).
This year the face-to-face meeting has been cancelled at the last minute and a virtual conference has been held instead. This did not stop some important news on HIV cure and vaccine from being presented.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the London man Adam Castillejo, who appears to have been cured of HIV after 30 months without antiretroviral therapy. He had had a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare genetic profile as part of a gruelling treatment for cancer. Researchers are still unable to find functional HIV in his blood, semen, lymph nodes, gut tissue or cerebrospinal fluid.
Another top story is a four-year-old child who acquired HIV during development in the womb, started antiretroviral therapy within two days after birth and stopped a year later, three years on the child is clinically healthy and continues to have undetectable HIV.
Scientists have for the first time produced a vaccine that induced human cells to generate broadly neutralising antibodies to HIV. This may be an important step towards a vaccine that could work both for HIV prevention and HIV treatment.
A symposium held before the main conference outlined the progress being made in two different approaches to curing HIV. One is to use a combination of therapies to rid the majority of HIV-infected cells from the body and suppress the rest. The other is using complex scientific methods to make cells that are immune to HIV, or cells that can fight off HIV infection.
And finally scientists are appreciating that women’s and men’s human biology is different and these differences might be a crucial factor affecting the success of HIV cure strategies. They recommend that more should be done to enroll women in clinical trials so that more can be understood about how to improve cure strategies for women.