The Africa Health Research Institute’s Dr Alex Sigal and Prof Thumbi Ndung’u hosted the 1st Max Planck Society Workshop on HIV Reservoirs and Evolution in St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, from 20 – 23 January 2019.

The three-day meeting brought together 80 leading researchers in the fields of HIV cure research and viral evolution. AHRI Faculty members, senior scientists and students were among those presenting.

There were some excellent talks. Prof Steven Deeks, from the University of California San Francisco, opened the meeting with a provocative keynote address on whether continuing to pursue a cure is necessary, or if it’s better to stick with life-long treatment. “As scientists, these are the kinds of things that we need to think about. We need to know what it is that we are trying to achieve; and I think the conversation starts here,” commented Dr Sigal.

Talks ranged in focus from evolution of HIV and the HIV reservoir; evolutionary dynamics and establishment of infection; mechanisms of control in early ART initiation; to establishment and maintenance of the HIV reservoir; genetic, anatomical, and population landscape of the reservoir; and cellular reservoirs and co-infection. Delegates were also given the opportunity to visit AHRI’s Vukuzazi site, a research programme that combines population science, precise phenotyping, biobanking and next-generation sequencing to beat HIV, TB and non-communicable diseases.

“It was very important to have this meeting in this location because this is where the HIV epidemic is the worst. If we’re going to find a solution, including curing people, that solution should come from here. That is what is likely to lead to a much bigger impact globally,” said Prof Ndung’u, reflecting on the significance of hosting the meeting in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“While we want to generate the knowledge here, we want advice from experts and to work with others to try and solve this problem. We also want to expose our young people, our students, to some of the best ideas out there. Through this meeting that is what we were trying to do. Hopefully we will yield some relationships that will last for a lifetime in terms of scientific collaboration.”

*The meeting was co-sponsored by AHRI and the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE).