CFAR Symposium Explores New Frontiers of HIV Research and Therapies

The 11th annual Miami CFAR Symposium, “Confronting HIV and Its Complications,” drew nearly 200 clinicians, researchers, educators, students and pharmaceutical company representatives to hear some of the world’s leading experts present the most current information available on HIV research and therapies.

Savita Pahwa, M.D., Director of the Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), opened the meeting with a warm welcome and an expression of gratitude for the commitment of speakers and attendees who had endured weather-related flight delays to be present. She noted that the mood in the HIV research community is upbeat, despite the funding climate. She added, however, that the sunny Miami greeting them actually had a dark cloud overhead.

“Miami-Dade County has 27,000 AIDS cases, and we are the epicenter in the United States for new HIV infections,” said Pahwa, who is professor of microbiology and immunology, pediatrics and medicine. “One percent of the county is HIV-infected, and only one-third of those individuals are virally suppressed. Broward County, which is No. 2 nationally in new HIV infections, has another 17,000 cases.”

Acknowledging that much work remains to be done, she turned the dais over to Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Co-Director of Miami CFAR, and Director of the new UM HIV/AIDS Institute, who introduced the Symposium’s keynote speaker, Robert C. Gallo, M.D., discoverer of the AIDS virus and developer of the HIV blood test.

Gallo pulled no punches in his presentation, “Reflections on Lessons from the Past and Progress for the Future.”

“We seem to only have a memory span of 25 to 30 years,” he told the audience. “The three most important epidemics of the last century — influenza, polio and HIV — were all due to viruses. The conventional wisdom at the time of the initial AIDS outbreak, however, was that viruses were over and it was time to focus on chronic diseases — which, as it turns out, are often caused by viruses.”

Gallo spoke of the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the frantic attempt by scientists to learn what the new disease was so they could figure out how to stop it. He cited the development of the blood test in 1984 and the development of therapies, first using AZT in 1986 and later, from 1994 to 1996, using combination drugs, as the two most important events of that era.

“The blood test was important because it led to large-scale production of the virus,” he said. “It saved the blood supply, it allowed the epidemic to be followed, and it allowed the first screening for HIV drugs. In terms of treatments, the AZT development was historic — the first antiviral therapy in medical history.”

Gallo also identified two primary needs for the future — continued research into new therapies, especially because the undependable longevity of antibodies is presenting serious challenges to vaccine development, and continued exploration into how to determine the correct therapy for each patient.

The Symposium closed with remarks by Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School of Medicine and CEO of UHealth.

“I want to congratulate you,” he said. “It is evident that you are close to coming up with a successful strategy for HIV, and I believe you will achieve a major breakthrough within the next five years. That may sound ambitious, but there is never an ambition that is too great. If you succeed, you will earn the gratitude of the people in Miami, across the U.S. and around the world. The time is right.”

Held April 9 at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center, the event was sponsored by CFAR, the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the University of Miami HIV/AIDS Institute.

Additional speakers included:

• Daniel Kuritzkes, M.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who spoke on “Progress in Challenges in the Search for an HIV Cure.” He was introduced by Margaret A. Fischl, M.D., professor of medicine, Co-Director of Miami CFAR and the Miami CFAR Clinical Core, and Director of the AIDS Clinical Research Unit.

• Priscilla Hsue, M.D., professor of medicine and Co-Director of the Center for Vascular Excellence at the University of California San Francisco, who spoke on “HIV, Inflammation and Cardiovascular Disease.” She was introduced by Rafael E. Campo, M.D., professor of clinical medicine and Director of the Miami CFAR Clinical Core.

• Michael S. Saag, M.D., Chair in AIDS Research and Director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose presentation asked the question, “Can we afford to cure all HIV-HCV co-infected patients of Hepatitis C?” He was introduced by Dushyantha T. Jayaweera, M.D., professor of clinical medicine and Associate Vice Provost for Human Subject Protection and Research.

• Ellen Chadwick, M.D., professor and Irene Heinz Given and John LaPorte Given Chair in Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Interim Division Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Co-Director of the Section of Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal HIV Infection at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, who spoke on “Early Antiretroviral Therapy in Newborns: Opportunities and Challenges.” She was introduced by Gwendolyn B. Scott, M.D., professor of pediatrics, Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology, and Director of the Miami CFAR Developmental Core.

• Michael Busch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of laboratory medicine at University of California San Francisco, Senior Vice President for Research and Scientific Affairs at Blood Systems, Inc., and Director of the Blood Systems Research Institute, who spoke on “HIV Antibody Characterization for Reservoir and Eradication Studies.” He was introduced by David Watkins, Ph.D., professor of pathology and Vice Chair of Research.

• Georgia Tomaras, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery, immunology and molecular genetics and microbiology, and Associate Director of Research at the Duke University Medical Center Human Vaccine Institute, who spoke on “HIV-1 Vaccine Biomarkers of Success.” She was introduced by Ronald C. Desrosiers, Ph.D., professor of pathology and Co-Director of the Miami CFAR Mentoring Program.

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