29 Nov 2016
Highlights from the 2016 Australian HIV and AIDS Conference (ASHM)
By Simin Dokht Rezaei, PhD student, Lewin/Cameron Group.
I received a scholarship to present and attend the recent 2016 Australian HIV & AIDS Conference (ASHM), in Adelaide.
With over 1500 members and close to 50 organisational members, ASHM presents one of the highest professional societies covering a multidisciplinary health workforce in HIV, viral hepatitis and sexual health. The conference is held annually and is combined with the 2016 Australian Sexual Health Conference (ASHA). ASHM is one of the few meetings, which presents the best opportunity to hear from speakers in Australia and our region about recent changes in HIV research including HIV prevention, potential treatment, and possible cure.
Not surprisingly, like any other meetings around HIV and AIDS, this meeting was also closely engaged with the community and included contributions from the community affected with HIV and AIDS.
Everyday around morning and afternoon tea break, there was a presentation by people from different community groups addressing critical issues in HIV. One of the most engaging talks for me was given by Paul Kidd, chair of the legal working group at Living Positive Victoria, who passionately talked about ‘equality’ and how successfully they have turned around cases on HIV criminalisation. His strong message was that “HIV is a virus, not a crime”. I do agree with him.
In terms of the science presented at ASHM, one of the plenary talks I attended was given by the invited speaker Dr Kedar Narayan, group leader at the recently opened centre for Molecular Microscopy (CMM) at Fredrick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, United States. He presented his recent works on HIV-cell interactions using his newly developed program, 3D electron microscopy.
Using 3D imaging system, he was able to capture how HIV-infected T cells pass the virus to the neighbouring cells. He showed that the healthy cells made a channel or a tube with their plasma membrane, and then the virus surfs on the top of the membrane until it reaches the next designated receptor on the surface of the T cell, which could provide the opportunity for the virus to fuse with the new cells.
The talk and the concept were fascinating. It raised lots and lots of interesting questions in the audience and I had a long chat with him during the morning tea break, discussing the possibility of capturing events after HIV enters into the T cells. Well, we better watch out, we might get the answer sooner than we think.
The conference was closed by a panel discussion with the theme on ‘HIV in 2020-Imaging Future’. The conversation was about what we would achieve by 2020, based on the UNAIDS proposal from 2013.
The take home message from the UNAIDS proposal is to achieve ‘90- 90- 90-a target to help end the AIDS epidemic’ by 2020, i.e. 90 per cent of HIV cases are diagnosed, 90 per cent of the cases have received sustained antiviral therapy and 90 per cent of the cases on treatment have reached undetectable viral load.
With the emphasize on the 90-90-90 proposal, the focus of the discussion was how far we have come and how far we still need to go to meet the target. The discussion was chaired by Dr Bridget Haire, President of Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation (AFAO).
What was so interesting about the panel discussion, was that every single question was started with, ‘now Trump is the president of United States, how well do you think we might achieve our goals’? and the response from the panel of expertise was mixed, with the majority of them optimistic that the transition from Obama to Trump would have a minimum effect on the progress.
The conference provided an excellent collaborative environment promoting the sharing of the ideas, results and discussion not only with the scientists and clinicians but most importantly with the community affected with HIV and AIDS here in Australia and across the region.