10 September 2012

AIDS Vaccine 2012 Hits Boston

I wrote this originally for the PSI Impact blog.

Today, Boston is playing host to the AIDS Vaccine 2012 conference. Researchers, advocates and practitioners are meeting for four days to collaborate, share new ideas and ultimately find ways to achieve the goal of an AIDS vaccine. Over 400 new researcher studies will be presented at the event.

"HIV vaccine research is in its most promising era since the epidemic began," said Bill Snow, Director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise to Joy Online. "With sound and well-financed implementation, new HIV prevention strategies could produce important reductions in the 2.5 million HIV infections occurring each year. At the same time, the development of a safe and effective AIDS vaccine remains central to efforts to bring us significantly closer to the end of this epidemic."

A Reuters report from July that was in advance of the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC highlighted the promising advances that bring us closer to an AIDS vaccine.
A 2009 clinical trial in Thailand was the first to show it was possible to prevent HIV infection in humans. Since then, discoveries have pointed to even more powerful vaccines using HIV-fighting antibodies. Now scientists believe a licensed vaccine is within reach.

"We know the face of the enemy," said Dr. Barton Haynes, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and recent director of the Center for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). The research consortium was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), founded in 2005 by the National Institutes of Health to identify and overcome roadblocks in the design of vaccines for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. NIAID's funding of CHAVI ended in June.

Unlike many viruses behind infectious disease, HIV is a moving target, constantly spitting out slightly different versions of itself, with different strains affecting different populations around the world. The virus is especially pernicious since it attacks the immune system, the very mechanism the body needs to fight back.
The below video for the conference introduces the progress towards a vaccine, what makes the conference special this year and why Boston is a unique city to play host for the event.

“The participation of young and early-career investigators is essential to solving the most pressing scientific research and public health challenges we face today,” said Galit Alter, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital at the time of the event's announcement. “AIDS Vaccine 2012 will bring new investigators, new ideas, and new technologies to Boston to support the global effort to address one of the greatest public health challenges of all time, the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine.“
You can follow along the conversation at the #AIDSvax2012 hashtag on Twitter.