Update #1, Opening Day, Day 2, Sunday and Monday February 5 and 6 from the Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections National Meeting

Conference - Feb 5/6 Transcript

Dr. Eric Daar offers perspectives of interest on topics from the 13th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (held in Denver, Colorado February 5-8, 2006)


The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections has become one of the most important HIV/AIDS research meetings of the year. This year there were over 3,800 leading researchers and clinicians from around the world in attendance with nearly 1000 presentations summarizing new clinical and laboratory research, as well as discussing issues related to co-infections and co-morbidity. The meeting opened on the evening of February 5th with an opening plenary and keynote session.

The 11th Annual Bernard Fields memorial Lecture was given by Bette Korber from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She described global HIV variation and its implications for vaccine development. Her presentation summarized data on the distribution of different HIV groups and clades, or subtypes from around the world. She also talked about her work in describing where HIV is likely to have emerged from, using molecular techniques to track when HIV likely jumped species from non human primates to humans. Her work took advantage of the oldest available strain from Africa, found from a frozen specimen in 1959, in order to trace the evolution back SIV in chimpanzees- suggesting that this virus entered humans in approximately 1930. She talked about how the extensive variability in HIV is an enormous obstacle to vaccine development and some of the strategies that are being looked at in order to overcome this problem.

The opening Keynote Lecture was provided by James Curran from Emory University. Dr. Curran had been at the CDC when the first cases of AIDS were described. His presentation was entitled, "25 Years of HIV Pandemic: Lessons Learned." He talked about the original reports of AIDS in 1981, the identification of the causative pathogen, HIV in Europe and in the United States, the development of the screening HIV antibody test, and many of the events related to this emerging epidemic that occurred during these early years. He talked about the many advances in both prevention and treatment and emphasized the importance of investigators continuing their hard work in order to overcome some of the remaining obstacles such as the development of an effective vaccine, and perhaps even HIV eradication.

Another Plenary lecture was presented on the first full day of the meeting by Dr. John Bartlett, from Johns Hopkins University entitled, "10 Years of Heart: Principles for the Future". Dr. Bartlett reminded the group that it has been 10 year since the first availability of potent antiretroviral therapy. He summarized how the rapid introduction of protease inhibitors into the standard of care resulted in marked reductions in AIDS-related mortality. He shared with the audience what he felt were some of the most important advances during the last 10 years, including several key events surrounding the Vancouver International AIDS Meeting in 1996 with the description of HIV dynamics showing that there are about 10 billion viral particles produced on a daily basis, the potency of triple drug therapy, and even discussion of potential eradication. He further talked about some of the unique treatment strategies that have more recently been considered, including strategies of using treatment interruption in different patient populations, a topic that was widely discussed during the ensuing days of this meeting. Like Dr. Curran, he emphasized the importance of continuing to work hard in order to advance the field and the importance of focusing efforts in the developing world.

Culturing Hepatitis C Virus in vitro

During the first full day of the meeting there was a Plenary Lecture by Dr. Wakita from the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Neurosciences in Japan describing lessons learned from in vitro cultivation of HCV. He reminded the audience that one of the obstacles to advancing our understanding of HCV pathogenesis as well as developing a vaccine and expanding treatment options has been the lack of an in vitro culture system or a small animal model for HCV. He described his work in developing an in vitro culture system using a strain of HCV from a patient who experienced fulminant infection. The virus was cloned, and a HCV replicon was created that replicated well in a cell line and was transmittable to chimpanzees (the only known animal model). Although there are clearly some limitations to the data, it does hold promise that the culture system will be available to allow us to grow the virus in vitro, and advance vaccine development and create a system for testing new treatment strategies.