July has been a busy month for our team, as the International AIDS Society Conference was held in Vancouver on July 19-22 2015. This conference gathers international HIV researchers and clinicians as well as community members. Many EPIC4 investigators attended the conference and our first EPIC4 study results were presented by Hinatea Dieumegard, a masters’ student working under the supervision of Dr. Soudeyns.
Conference highlights included presentations on an interesting teenager: a perinatally HIV-infected person who was treated shortly after birth–though not immediately–and who maintained virologic suppression for more than 12 years after stopping antiretroviral treatment. This individual’s HIV-RNA copies remain very low (4 copies/ml) even though therapy was stopped 12 years ago. More research into this area is needed in order to understand how individuals can remain well-controlled when they stop antiretroviral therapy and how a similar response could potentially be induced in other individuals living with HIV.
Another topic that garnered a lot of attention during the conference was the efficacy of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP consists in giving antiretroviral medications to individuals who are at high risk of contracting HIV in order to prevent the sexual transmission of the virus. Several studies have analysed the use of PrEP in different groups of people, and results indicate that administering an antiretroviral medication prior to HIV exposure reduces the risk of infection. It is important to note though, that PrEP is not 100% efficient and does not prevent the transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases, so using a condom is always advised.
Finally, findings of the so-called « START » randomized clinical trial, which stands for « Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment », were revealed at the conference. What this large-scale study has shown is that earlier initiation of HIV treatment, regardless of the state of an individual’s immune health (CD4 counts), has significant health benefits for the person living with HIV. Thus, it is now firmly established that an HIV-infected person should begin treatment right away–as soon as possible after infection.