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The Keystone Symposium 2019 in Canada – “The Hunt for HIV Cure is on”

Bannet Asingura (Msc) presenting a poster at this year’s Keystone conference

From the 24th to 28th March 2019, Dr. Prossy Naluyima (Laboratory Director) and Bannet Asingura (Research Associate/Grants Officer) represented Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) at the 2019 Keystone Symposium in Whistler, British Colombia, Canada. The Keystone Symposia has a 47-year history of convening open, peer-reviewed conferences that connect the scientific community in a bid to support acceleration of life science discovery. This year’s edition of the Keystone HIV symposium focused on Functional Cures and the Eradication of HIV.

To find practical, affordable and scalable cures for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and the world at large, we need to determine how to reduce and/or prevent the persistent immune activation caused by HIV infection. This persistent immune activation weakens the immune system and causes the HIV viruses to multiply in the body and accelerates progression to non-AIDS comorbidities despite patients adequately adhering to antiretroviral therapy (ART).

During the conference Dr. Prossy and Bannet presented their laboratory research on the natural herbal plant extracts of Azadirachta indica also known as neem tree that may be able to boost immune system recovery during HIV infection, which is in line with the HIV functional cures mandate.

The search for a cure for HIV is a high priority for scientists.  The case of Timmothy Ray Brown (aka Berlin patient) and the recently presented London patient who remain aviremic (have undetectable HIV viral load) despite being taken off ART for long periods of time [1, 2] provide hope that HIV cure is indeed possible. However, it remains to be unanimously agreed whether to term these cases as HIV cures or HIV remission because it still remains to be determined how long someone who has discontinued ART can remain without viral rebound.