Over the coming days, the ‘International Aids Society Conference on HIV Science’, is taking place in Paris. Here at the British Science Association (BSA), we’ve been keeping close tabs on the exciting and potentially life-changing research that has been coming from the conference. HIV is a virus that causes progressive failure of the immune system, affecting the body’s ability to fight infection. The virus works by infecting our immune cells, wiping out normal immune function, and if not controlled properly, this can be severely life limiting.

Current statistics show that worldwide, 36.7 million people are living with HIV, with 18.2 million of these receiving antiretroviral therapy, which involves taking medication daily [1]. Although this medication is successful at keeping the virus dormant, it cannot eliminate the virus completely, and great efforts have gone into coming up with new treatments to better control HIV.

One exciting piece of research that’s come straight out of the conference shows an innovative way of giving treatment to HIV patients. The study, which is still in the trial phase, saw patients with HIV given treatment injections every 4 or 8 weeks, getting rid of the need for them to take daily tablets. Excitingly, high percentages of patients continued to suppress the virus when being given these injections, indicating that this could potentially become a ground-breaking new treatment option in the future.

A further study that's come out on the back of the conference shows a nine-year-old boy, born with HIV, managing to spend his life practically treatment free. He received antiretroviral therapy at nine weeks old for 40 weeks, and since treatment was stopped, no active HIV has been observed in his body. For those born with the virus, this holds potential to live a completely normal, medication-free life.

Looking to other disease treatments, could cancer drugs hold the key to a HIV cure? The new kid on the block of treatment is ‘immunotherapy’, which involves manipulating one’s own immune system to directly target, and fight cancer. It’s thought that advances seen in the cancer field may also stretch to the infectious disease field, where we can use immunotherapy to specifically target immune cells infected with HIV. This novel thinking is yet to enter trials in humans, but with such positive advances shown in treating cancer, it holds great opportunities for the future.

HIV is an area of science with great research vigour. It's something we want to highlight as well as giving a platform to the great researchers involved in improving the quality of life for patients living with the virus. As the British Science Festival approaches, this provides us with an amazing opportunity to discover more. On the 6 September 2017, you can join researchers from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School as they explain what new challenges HIV presents as patients live with disease into old age. Or, on 8 September 2017, Robert Cuffe will be describing how we develop drugs to prevent the transmission of HIV. Both events will provide a research insight into novel ways of thinking about HIV as a disease, with the aim to improve the lives of millions of people in the future.

The British Science Festival will take place from 5-9 September 2017 in Brighton, and there are over 100 FREE events to get involved in. As well as covering new approaches to HIV, you can take a bike tour around Brighton, learn the art of creole cooking, or take a trip up the i360.

For more information, visit: https://www.britishsciencefestival.org/

[1] https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/global-statistics