The 9th IAS Conference, zooming into HIV science, was held recently in Paris, France from the 23 – 26 of July 2017. The international conference – now in its ninth outing – brought with it the results and discoveries of several key researches in the field of HIV studies. Here are four of the biggest discoveries from the recent conference.

1. Injections: The next big step in HIV treatment

Daily dosages of oral anti-retroviral treatment could be replaced and reduced to just six doses a year, in a result brought forward by ViiV Healthcare. This revolution in HIV treatment is made possible by administering injections, which slowly and continuously release anti-retroviral HIV medication into the bloodstream – without the need of intervention from either patient or the healthcare professional.

Currently in the early stages of developing this new mode of treatment, the injections have been tested on 309 patients from 50 centres in US, Canada, Germany, France and Spain. Till date, the results have been overwhelmingly positive with a 94% success rate (with injections every eight weeks). The most common side effects include diarrhea and headache.

For now, the team is planning to expand the research – to encompass a longer time frame and larger sample size – before the new form of treatment is ready to be rolled out for the general public.

2. Cancer drugs hold the key to curing HIV

In another breakthrough discovery for the treatment of HIV, anti-cancer drugs may hold the key to treating HIV infections via the reinvigoration of the immune system. Anti-cancer drugs, specifically immunotherapy, work by leveraging our existing immune system, boosting it and using it against the fight against cancer cells.

With cancer, the trouble lies where the immune system is unable to identify or target the cancer cells, which have the ability to become “invisible” to the immune system. This is a similar case in HIV where the immune system is unable to detect the latent HIV lying dormant within our body’s cells.

Nevertheless, immunotherapy has shown great success in treating terminally ill cancer patients to the point of remission. By incorporating a similar groundwork as immunotherapy, researchers may be able to create a HIV treatment which allows for our innate immunity to target HIV.

Although their concepts and mechanism are similar, HIV and cancer are still two very different diseases. As such, there is much that still needs to be done for this new pathway in HIV research.

3. Drug combination could save thousands with HIV

The combination of several low-cost drugs could save the lives of thousands in the Sub-Saharan African region according to a study published by the University College London.

By combining tuberculosis, antifungal, anti-parasitic and antibiotics and giving them to youth across East Africa, the team was able to significantly decrease mortality rates among them. Although the combination did not include any HIV medication, the goal of the treatment was to target infections associated with HIV infection.

Due to the social stigma and lack of outreach for HIV treatment until the later stages, this simple and cheap drug combination has had a profound effect on the group that were treated. This treatment crucially buys time for new HIV patients with already compromised immunities who have only just begun their anti-retroviral treatment.

With its low cost and proven effectiveness, the WHO is now deliberating to adopt the treatment in the future.

4. Child born with HIV, now healthy

Finally, a child who was infected with HIV has been healthy for the last nine years since an initial short course of anti-retroviral. Ever since then, the child has been healthy – showing no signs of HIV infection despite not being on any treatment.

With only a small reservoir of the virus present within the child’s immune system, researchers are apprehensive of declaring the child cured of the infection. Nevertheless, there is much to learn about this South African native who holds the key to treating newborns with vertically-transmitted HIV.

Till date, there have only been three known cases of children born with HIV, who have remained healthy without treatment. “By further studying the child, we may expand our understanding of how the immune system controls HIV replication,” said Caroline Tiemessen from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg.

Unfortunately, other children have not been so lucky and similar treatment modalities have not proven to be effective in replicating similar results. With that knowledge in mind, researchers are working frantically to form a better understanding of HIV infection in newborn and children and find a way to combat the infection more effectively. MIMS

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