Here in Atlanta, in anticipation of the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, I had been reflecting on how important 2013 could turn out to be in the lead in to the pivotal Millennium Development Goals being met in 2015. I was dwelling on how the effective implementation of science on the ground continues to be one our greatest challenges and at the same time the key to driving down infections through the scale up of such tools as treating as prevention.
I think we all sensed at the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. a growing sense of optimism that we are at the cusp of beginning to imagine the end of AIDS, but at the same time, as my colleagues Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Adeeba Kamarulzaman, co-chairs of the forthcoming IAS 2013 conference, have recently said, the barriers to doing so remain so entrenched in so many parts of the world.
I am convinced that the better that HIV science becomes the more likely that the imperatives driving stigma, for instance, will gradually fade out. Well, didn't we get some truly inspirational science in the first few days of this conference?
The so-called "functionally cured" Mississippi child has certainly been a talking point here in the corridors of the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and the world over. While further analysis is needed before we can draw firm conclusions, the search for an HIV cure continues to gain momentum as IAS President Françoise Barré-Sinoussi put it on Tuesday morning: "It's ongoing, and it will take time, but more and more data is indicating that we have to move forward and work on a cure."
While the child was still grabbing a lot of the attention well into Monday, an equally-important piece of science was being presented the same afternoon by Sharon Lewin, who announced that she and her team from Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia had uncovered HIV's genetic hiding place and found a drug, Vorinostat, able to wake it up so that it can be destroyed.
"What we thought would happen happened: the virus woke up, and we could measure it," said Lewin on Monday. "That is a big step."
I am proud that the IAS has led the way on the development of The Global Scientific Strategy, Towards an HIV Cure, which we launched last year in D.C. What we are seeing here in Atlanta is a continuation of the renewed energy and enthusiasm for HIV cure-related research that will maintain its impetus leading into the IAS 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur in June with the Pre-Conference Symposium Toward an HIV Cure.
And I have my fingers crossed that HIV cure-related research will again be big news when we're in Australia for the 20th International AIDS Conference in 2014.
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