HIV/AIDS Researchers and Clinicians Outline Recent Advances at 12th Annual Symposium

Advances in antiretroviral therapy are extending the lives of individuals with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world. But more work is needed to develop an effective vaccine against the deadly virus and provide medical care for infected men, women and children who lack access to medical resources.

Both themes were emphasized by a distinguished roster of researchers, clinicians and community activists at the 12th annual symposium held by the Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) on April 8. The Miller School-sponsored conference drew more than 200 attendees.

Dushyantha Jayaweera, M.D., Interim Executive Dean for Research at the Miller School, welcomed attendees to the symposium, which included several sessions that were videocast to educators at the Southeast AIDS Education and Training Center’s concurrent session.

“State-of-the-art antiretroviral therapy is changing the lives of people for the better,” said Miami CFAR co-director Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the HIV/AIDS Institute. “But we have a long way to go to change the face of this global epidemic.”

Miami CFAR Director Savita Pahwa, M.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, said the center is one of only 20 nationwide funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the only such center in Florida. “Our state has the highest number of new HIV infections in the U.S., and Miami-Dade County is leading in terms of numbers,” she said. “We desperately need to change those statistics and get HIV under permanent control sooner, rather than later.”

Prevention of HIV and treatment of AIDS are closely linked, said keynote speaker Carl W. Dieffenbach, Ph.D., Director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in his presentation, “Fostering the Next Wave of Innovation in HIV/AIDS Research.” He added, “I am optimistic that an HIV vaccine is in our reach.”

Dieffenbach said studies have demonstrated that starting antiretroviral therapy at an early stage can suppress the virus and prevent HIV transmission. He added that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill for high-risk individuals, is “amazingly effective” as long as there is user compliance. “Physicians should deliver this therapy in the context of a comprehensive prevention package,” he said, noting that there has been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, such as anal gonorrhea, in individuals taking PrEP.

Future HIV/AIDS therapy may include sustained-release and long-acting drug formulations, delivered via injectables and implantable devices, Dieffenbach said. “The long-range goal is safe and effective drugs that can be given once a year, improving adherence and reducing the risk of the viral rebound that occurs when therapy is discontinued,” he said.

Another noted researcher, Roy Gulick, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, gave a “state-of-the-art” update on antiretroviral therapy. He said 29 drugs are approved for the treatment of HIV infection, and many new drugs and formulations are under investigation.

Today, the life expectancy of HIV-positive individuals on antiretroviral therapy is actually longer than uninfected individuals, Gulick added, because these patients see their doctors more frequently and receive better management of related health problems.

Other CFAR symposium speakers included Twesigny Jackson Kaguri, who traveled from his native Uganda to talk about the impact of the AIDS epidemic in rural Africa, and Michael Farzan, Ph.D., Vice Chairman and Professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbial Science at the Scripps Research Institute Florida, who discussed laboratory advances in developing an effective HIV-1 vaccine alternative.

The mission of Miami CFAR is to advance HIV/AIDS research by providing scientific leadership and developing an infrastructure that fosters integration of basic, clinical and behavioral/social sciences, promotes education and mentorship, and partners with the community to prevent, treat and cure HIV/AIDS.

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