By Edwin Folven, 7/26/2012
Some attendees see positive changes in treating the disease
Finding a cure for HIV/AIDS and increasing treatment options for people who are infected with the disease were among the key topics discussed this week at the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C.
Thousands of scientists, public officials and other figures are attending the conference, which began last Sunday and runs through Friday. It is the first time in 22 years that the conference is being held in the United States, after a ban was lifted by President Barack Obama in 2009 on visitors coming into the country who are infected with HIV/AIDS. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is attending the conference and said the information presented has given him hope that a cure will someday be within reach. He also said he is encouraged about discussions on treatments, such as drugs that allow people with HIV to live longer, and a more comprehensive approach to testing.
“There has been a lot of scientific progress, and a lot of optimism,” Weinstein said. “This is the first time in twenty-two years we have had the conference here in the United States, and that has been very encouraging.”
One of the main sources of encouragement is a commitment to find a cure for HIV. Many of the scientists attending the conference have cited a man known as the “Berlin Patient”, who was essentially cured of HIV. The patient, an HIV-positive American named Timothy Brown who now lives in Germany, developed leukemia and required a bone marrow transplant. His physicians found a bone marrow donor who had a rare genetic mutation that blocks HIV from entering human cells. Brown received two bone marrow transplants, and was reportedly cured of leukemia and HIV. Weinstein said that treatment is not plausible for the millions of people infected with HIV around the world because suitable bone marrow donors aren’t available, but it does provide encouragement that a cure can be found.
“There is nothing concrete, but it’s still a hope,” Weinstein added. “What is going on now is extremely promising, but as far as a timeline, we are not to that point yet.”
Scientists with the International AIDS Society attending the conference vowed to continue searching for a cure, and are reportedly researching a variety of treatments and drugs that would remove HIV from the body. Many attendees, including Weinstein, said more funding is needed to keep the progress moving forward.
Weinstein said the AHF participated in a march last Sunday from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol to raise awareness about the disease.
“We have scaled up the treatment, and now seven million people are being treated for HIV around the world,” Weinstein added. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it is conceivable to ramp that up even more.”