The 7th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS2013) opens today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and attendees are excited about much of the innovative research that will be presented over the next three days. IAS2013 has attracted a broad range of delegates, ranging from clinicians to public health experts, and their programmatic breadth reflects the variety of attendees. Updating the research on functional cures for HIV is a particular focus of the conference, and some of the most anticipated sessions focus on the new ways in which doctors are looking for a cure. As such, tonight’s opening plenary, by Steve Deeks, will examine the role of inflammation in HIV disease and talk about how inflammation may affect the search for a functional cure.
Another highly anticipated session will take place during the pediatric symposium on Wednesday, where Deborah Persaud, lead researcher on the “Mississippi Baby” case, will discuss how her results suggest that it may be possible to cure newborn infants with HIV. The results of a natural experiment, where a high-risk infant was given large doses of antiretroviral medications before being lost to care for several months, the “Mississippi Baby” case suggests that early antiretroviral treatment, even before HIV infection has been confirmed, may be able to prevent latent infection and the corresponding development of a viral reservoir. The presence of the viral reservoir is one of the biggest obstacles preventing the leap from a functional cure to an actual one.
However, potential HIV cures are not the only innovative research that will be explored at IAS2013. There is also a great deal of new data that addresses the other end of disease spectrum – testing and prevention. Several studies exploring the potential, and realized, benefits of treatment as prevention will be presented at the conference. This research, along with other studies on testing and early initiation of care, will provide an important update for doctors who are interested in the direct and community-level health benefits of starting treatment in patients with higher CD4 levels than are currently standard.
Particularly relevant to doctors practicing in the developing world will be a number of studies exploring the benefits of antenatal care, not just for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV but also for the improvement of adult health. For example, one Kenyan study, which will be presented on Tuesday, discusses the use of home visits for antenatal care to improve HIV testing among women’s male partners. Several other studies will report on their use of innovative techniques to increase uptake of services to reduce mother to child transmission, such as contacting women via SMS message and using decentralized treatment centers.
All in all, it looks to be a very exciting four days. Things have already kicked off to a good start with a pre-conference satellite session launching the 2013 WHO Consolidated Guidelines on the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs for HIV Treating and Preventing HIV Infection and another discussing the major results from the newest WHO Global HIV Treatment and Care Update. Those sessions, in combination with satellite sessions on expanding prevention options for women and how to choose appropriate antiretroviral therapies for individuals with HIV-associated comorbidities, have set the tone for the conference – a broad-based, interdisciplinary, and international look at ways to improve AIDS care.