Paris, May 28, 2013
Celebrating 30 years since the discovery of the HIV
Celebrating 30 years since the discovery of the HIV: 3 questions to Olivier Schwartz
In the days leading up to the scientific symposium on HIV held at the Institut Pasteur May 21-23, Olivier Schwartz, head of the Virus and Immunity Unit at the Institut Pasteur, took the time to answer a few of our questions about the current state of research on the virus.
What is the aim of the symposium?
We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV at the Institut Pasteur. The goal of the symposium is to use this occasion to come together and discuss the latest scientific and therapeutic advances made in the field of HIV research. Various topics will be covered, such as the replication of the virus, the immune system reaction, disease-triggering mechanisms, and potential therapeutic strategies for the future. Five-hundred delegates from around the world will be present at the symposium. This includes scientists, students, postdoctoral fellows, and physicians - all interested in HIV from either a fundamental or clinical perspective.
What major discoveries have marked the disease over the past 30 years?
The virus itself was discovered right here at the Institut Pasteur in 1983 – a discovery which earned co-discoverers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008. In 1986, HIV-2, a cousin of HIV-1, was also discovered at the Institut Pasteur.
In the 30 years since its discovery major progress has been made in all areas of HIV research. In 1996, triple therapy became available as an effective treatment option and today several antiviral molecules are available to treat patients. Although patients must remain on medication permanently in order to control their infection.
Current research is trending towards understanding why some rare individuals are able to control the infection without treatment. Their immune systems are activated but not overly so, just enough to keep the infection under control. Understanding the mechanisms behind naturally controlling the infection could lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies. The kind of multidisciplinary study this would require involves research centers and hospitals working in concert.
Have these discoveries improved life expectancy for those infected with the virus?
Absolutely. In developed countries, most people who are infected have access to treatments and as a result do not become sick. They are treated and, although there is no cure, in most cases they enjoy a normal standard of living.
As for developing countries, enormous progress has been made to improve access to treatment, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa where this epidemic is most highly concentrated. However, this is not enough because HIV remains the number one virus in terms of fatalities in the world today.