Towards an HIV Cure Community Workshop - Chennai
30 January 2014 | Chennai, India

Beyond the mission to accelerate and facilitate international research for a potential HIV cure, the IAS Towards an HIV Cure Global Scientific Initiative is strongly determined to ensure that the  broader HIV community is involved and engaged in this process.

With this in mind, the Towards an HIV Cure initiative organized a community training workshop on the topic of HIV cure in Chennai, India, in conjunction with the HIV Science 2014 Symposium on HIV and Infectious Diseases, organized by YRG Care.

The workshop aimed to provide the basic elements to understand the challenges and obstacles for an HIV cure, but also the encouraging recent results and the current research directions.  The workshop was attended by almost 100 participants, approximately half of whom were young and mid-career researchers and clinicians and the other half were members of the local and regional community and members of HIV+ networks.

Dr. Jack Whitescarver of the NIH Office of AIDS Research and Dr. Suniti Solomon, Director of YRG Care, co-chaired the workshop and facilitated the discussion.   Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, IAS President and co-chair of the IAS Towards an HIV Cure initiative gave the welcoming statement by explaining why an HIV cure is being pursued and the initial results that provide some encouragement, all while stressing that a cure for HIV is not yet available and will not be immediately.

Dr. Anna-Laura Ross, Towards an HIV Cure Strategy and Science Manager, discussed the organization of the initiative, the ongoing events and activities and highlighted in particular the ways in which community members can be engaged and involved in the initiative.  Dr. Ross also presented the plans for the 2014 Towards an HIV Cure Symposium, to be held in Melbourne, Australia, on 19-20 July 2014.

A community representative, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid the difficult stigma surrounding HIV-positive people in India, gave a touching and brave speech on his own personal perspective as a man living with HIV in Chennai. Although he realizes that a cure for HIV is unlikely to be a reality for himself, he is hopeful that research will advance to ensure that future generations will be able to benefit from a cure for HIV, allowing patients to safely interrupt antiretroviral therapy and, importantly, be freed from the stigma and discrimination that still surrounds HIV in so many parts of the world.

The satellite workshop continued with two presentations by Dr. Diana Finzi, of the NIAID-NIH, and Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion of the Institut Pasteur. Dr. Finzi provided a very clear background of the basic mechanisms of HIV latency explaining why it is so difficult to target HIV reservoirs.  Dr. Finzi went on to highlight the encouraging recent results that provide hope that an HIV cure may be possible one day.  These recent studies included the report of the Berlin patient, the only person known to have completely eliminated HIV from his body, the recent case of the Mississippi baby, who was treated very early after birth, and is now suppressing viral load even in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.  Dr. Finzi also provided balance to her presentation by reminding the audience of the recent case of the two Boston patients, who were initially thought to be in remission of HIV, but who have unfortunately seen their virus return.

Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion gave a stimulating talk on the opportunities of early antiretroviral therapy (ART) in limiting the size and breadth of HIV reservoirs.  In particular, Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion presented the ANRS Visconti cohort of 14 patients who were treated in acute HIV infection phase and, following prolonged and continued ART, subsequently interrupted their therapy and were still able to control viral replication. Although HIV is still present in these individuals, they are now able to control the virus without having to take daily drugs.

Dr. Whitescarver and Professor Solomon chaired the final discussion, which gave rise to a lively interaction between the researchers and the members of HIV+ networks.  The community members were eager to understand in detail the current context of HIV cure research and several expressed their wish to engage further and be part of the IAS HIV cure initiative.

While in Chennai, the IAS staff were able to visit the YRG Care Clinic and Laboratory, where Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi inaugurated the “HIV Cure Research Laboratory” on 30 January 2014.

In conclusion, the IAS Towards an HIV Cure Community training workshop was successfully attended and gave rise to a lively and interactive discussion.  The IAS hopes to repeat this positive experience with additional community workshops elsewhere around the world.

IAS Newsletter – Spring 2014

For the downloadable PDF of the Chennai Community Workshop summary