by Marla Paul
CHICAGO — Can HIV researchers slow the epidemic where it is growing most — among young people in Chicago and around the country?
Leading HIV/AIDS scientists from around the world and Chicago will gather at a Northwestern Medicine® workshop to accelerate research and spark new collaborations on more feasible HIV cure strategies. Scientists also will focus on improving HIV prevention among the young people of Chicago.
The free workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Thursday, April 24, in the Canning Auditorium, Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, 250 E. Superior St., in Chicago. Members of media need to RSVP. Registration is required for attendees.
The workshop is sponsored by the HIV Translational Research Center and the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV infection, will speak to scientists on the 7th anniversary of his cure to encourage the scientists to continue their work. Brown has been free of HIV and off all medicines for HIV for seven years as a result of a risky, difficult transplant that replaced his immune system with one from a very rare person with a genetic variant resistant to infection by HIV. Brown will speak at the workshop from 12:55 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
It is a unique meeting for researchers because of the emphasis on achieving sustained remissions of HIV by starting HIV medicines early; most meetings about cure research have emphasized other strategies.
Richard D’Aquila, M.D., a professor of medicine at Feinberg and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, organized the scientific workshop in partnership with Brian Mustanski, an associate professor in medical social sciences at Feinberg. D’Aquila, has been on the front lines of HIV care and research since the start of the epidemic in 1982.
“It is amazing how much progress we have made but disturbing that now young people are at increasing risk of HIV and a lifelong need for medicines, if they get infected,” D’Aquila said. “The workshop will bring together the best minds now working on HIV cure research to help generate ideas to better prevent, treat and some day cure HIV.”
The HIV epidemic in Chicago and prevention and cure research among youth here also will be discussed.
New cases of HIV infection are increasing in Chicago — and elsewhere in the U.S. — among young people, predominantly young African American gay men. Efforts to start HIV medicines soon after infection will be synergistic with improving HIV prevention and keeping young people healthy and free of the burdens of lifelong medicines.
Speakers at the workshop include researchers from around the world who are leading the effort to cure more HIV-infected people, as well as local HIV clinicians and scientists. The scientists who will discuss their research include those who were responsible for treating the newborn baby, known as the “Mississippi baby,” who is also considered cured. Also present will be the scientists who treated the many adults in a European study who are now off medicines without evidence of HIV, after starting medicines very early.
The “Mississippi baby” and the adults in Europe had this unusual outcome, because anti-HIV medicines were started very soon after HIV infection was acquired. This approach may be more feasible for both children and adults than the approach that cured Brown. However, it appears that only a small proportion of infected persons who start medicines early will achieve this outcome. Much more research is needed to understand and improve this response.