HIV Forum Discuses Status of Research
"We don't know the rules of the game," is how Dr. Calvin J. Cohen described researchers' dilemma at trying to understand how long an AIDS patient can stay off drugs before harming his or her body. Cohen spoke during a forum sponsored by Washington's Grubbs Pharmacy and Prevention Works. With the support of Bristol-Myers Squibb and BTG Pharmaceuticals, they also provided dinner.
Since Federal law bars the District of Columbia from using its own funds to support a needle exchange program, Prevention Works does so with private donations. The Federal law only applies to The District. Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have similar programs supported by state and/or local government dollars.
The U.S. government is now studying if a patient can go on a "drug holiday," said Cohen. Dr. Theo Hodge, Jr. of Washington, D.C. is a part of the team studying the issue. Researchers don't expect to discover the results until 2013.
Much of the problem with combating AIDS is that the virus that causes the disease changes patterns that make taking only one medicine ineffective. Doctors now prescribe AID patients with three drugs to combat the virus.
By continuously taking the three drugs, doctors expect that an AIDS patient can hold the virus in place for many decades. "We are now in the era of durable suppression," continued Dr. Cohen of the Harvard Medical College in Boston.
On another front in the war against AIDS, Cohen expressed concern over the virus in many new patients. The virus they catch often resists current drugs. Many new patients are Black. In 2001, Africans Americans accounted for about half of all new AIDS cases. The disease is the leading cause of death among African-American women aged 25-34.
Dr. David A. Parks conducted the second presentation, on Lipoatrophy. The result of the condition is that many AIDS patients lose body fat in their face, arms, legs, and buttocks. Scientists can predict who is most likely to get the condition. "You are more likely to get it if you are White," said Dr. Parks of the Clinical Research Group in St. Louis.
Recalling the progress that researchers and medical personnel have made, Ed Dillion, co-owner of Grubb pharmacy recalled, "We saw patients with the disease, before they called it HIV."