Cure setbacks force HIV researchers to reset sights

Jon is a staff writer for Science.

At the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia, last week, cure research dominated the scientific agenda. A consensus emerged that the field should stop talking about the rare, interesting individuals who appear to be "cured" of their infection—three of whom surprisingly had the virus return this past year—and take a page from cancer and discuss prolonged remissions instead. A central focus of cure research itself remains the reservoir, the small pool of cells that have latent HIV DNA laced into their chromosomes that persist for decades even when people take potent antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. One provocative study demonstrated that a cancer drug could shock the latently infected cells to produce new virus, a leading strategy to reduce reservoirs if indeed these cells then die off, as hoped. A new assay was described that putatively can better measure changes in reservoir size than anything now available. And a lab has engineered a "barcoded" version of SIV, the monkey AIDS virus, that it hopes will help clarify which tissues harbor the most intractable reservoirs and how they lead to surges in viral levels shortly after ARVs are stopped.

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