'We're not out of the woods yet'

Credit: Amélie Philibert

In 5 seconds

At an international conference, CHU Sainte-Justine immunologist Hugo Soudeyns talks about the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Close to 37 million people around the world are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, and Canadian researchers like Université de Montréal professor Hugo Soudeyns are at  the forefront of medical research into the disease. From April 6 to 9, Soudeyns co-chaired the Canadian Association for HIV Research's 26th annual meeting in Montreal, welcoming 800 participants who presented 525 new research papers, a record number.

Who is this conference for?

This is a conference that truly brings together the 'who's-who' of HIV research in Canada.

What are the issues?

There are several, and they reflect what's in the news about HIV around the world. We are talking about more effective treatments, easier treatments, a disease that is now considered a chronic disease, mother-to-child transmission that's now preventable, a cure for HIV, vaccination and all sorts of things like that.

But that's not the whole story.

No, in fact there are still many problems. We still cannot prevent all infections, the number of new cases in the world has hit a plateau, the epidemic continues in men who have sex with men, more women than ever are getting infected, First Nations and Métis people are disproportionately represented.

Haven't there been some successes?

Of course, in the media we always talk about successes. But there is still no vaccine, there is still no cure. There are still significant challenges: resistance to antiretroviral drugs, problems related to the transition from pediatric care to adult care for children infected with HIV. We mustn't have the impression that our job is done. We're not out of the woods yet.

Are there other key topics?

There are some that are very current, yes: problems related to aging with HIV, prevention among the African / Black Caribbean populations in Canada, questions related to smoking and medical marijuana, the uncertain future of vaccine research. The conference covers all these topics in detail.

What about funding for research?

Clearly, one of the problems globally is to maintain sustained funding, not just for research but for the deployment of medicines, for improved care and so on, especially in the sub-Saharan African countries and the ex-USSR. It will continue to be an important challenge.

You're a specialist of HIV in children. What's new in this area of ​​research?

We're discovering a number of things. Contrary to what one sees in adults, we now have the impression that in children, when treatment begins sooner and lasts longer, their HIV reservoir seems to decline, or at least is smaller. We think this is quite new and perhaps illustrates a different dynamic of infection in children as compared to adults.

UdeM is particularly strong in HIV research, isn't it?

Very strong. The Faculty of Medicine at Université de Montréal is a major player in HIV research in Canada. We've got a number of well-known researchers: Andrés Finzi, Nicolas Chomont, Petronella Ancuta, Michel Roger, Cécile Tremblay and Daniel Kaufmann, all of them pursuing major studies. Montreal is truly a hub of activity; the research here is on the cutting edge, and we have every reason to be proud. Montreal's claim to fame these days isn't just artificial intelligence. In terms of HIV, we are number one in Canada.

About the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre

CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 200 research investigators, including over 90 clinicians, as well as 350 graduate and post-graduate students focused on finding innovative means of prevention, faster and less invasive treatments, and personalized approaches to medicine. The Centre is part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child hospital in Canada and second most important pediatric hospital in North America.

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