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Trans Women Are Front and Center at Global AIDS Conference

Global AIDS Con

The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), “the world’s preeminent scientific conference on HIV and related conditions,” takes place March 4-7 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts. 

On Sunday, CROI held a press conference to provide an overview of the upcoming sessions that mostly focused on new medical research breakthroughs.

The bustling event was off to a quick start as several noted scientists, researchers and doctors introduced the concepts behind their abstracts.

The Scientific Program Committee leadership, which consisted of Chair Judith S. Currier, MD, and Vice Chairs Sharon L. Hillier, PhD and Richard A. Koup, MD, provided an overview for the upcoming conference sessions. The trio of Chairs pointed out some of the most exciting developments that would soon be revealed, including new information on HIV transmission trends among transgender women in the Los Angeles area.

“I think we’re hearing more about transgender populations who have been really overlooked because they don’t fit neatly into a lot of our large trials,” Hillier said at the live pre-conference overview on Sunday, “And they need to really focus on transgender people, as well as people who inject drugs.”

Wafaa M. El-Sadr from Columbia University moderated the pre-conference session Oral Abstract Session 4 Surveillance and Epidemiology: New Approaches on Sunday. Several previews on new abstracts were covered in the relatively short session including abstracts on HIV transmission clusters, HIV transmission among transgender women in Los Angeles and female HIV acquisition in late pregnancy stages.

First, Anne Marie France from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touched on the trends that researchers observed in HIV clusters that are forming throughout the United States.

Manon Ragonnet-Cronin from the University of California San Diego provided information from her abstract, Phylogenetic Patterns of HIV Transmission Among Transgender Women in Los Angeles. “The HIV epidemic is concentrated in the U.S. which means that HIV risk is much higher for some subpopulations than for others,” Ragonnet-Cronin said. “These disparities are thought to be one of the drivers of epidemic spread. The prevalence of HIV among transgender women is over 20 percent compared to less than half a percent in the population as a whole. So we want to better understand the spread among transgender women.”

Ragonnet-Cronin explained how genetic sequences are readily available in the United States and make certain research projects possible. “HIV is constantly evolving, so the genetic sequence of the virus is different in each individual. When one person transmits to another, the viruses tend to be similar,” she said. “So we can use the genetic sequences sample from the population and the relationships between them to look at clusters of HIV infection to understand transmission patterns. When people are diagnosed with HIV in the U.S., a portion of the virus is genetically sequenced before they are put on treatment, because sometimes they’re already infected with a virus that’s already resistant to some drugs.” For this reason, viral genetic sequence data is routinely collected by public health agencies in the United States.

Renee Heffron from the  University of Washington followed Ragonnet-Cronin and talked about how female HIV acquisition per sex act is elevated in the late stages of pregnancy and during postpartum stages.

It’s enlightening to see transgender women fairly represented in this year’s CROI conference. The above mentioned studies will be presented in further detail on Monday, March 5 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PST.

Immediately after Sunday’s live Oral Abstract Session 4, Oral Abstract Session 5 – The HIV Reservoir and Viral Replication provided a preview for the medical abstracts that are scheduled to be presented on Tuesday, March 6 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PST. These abstracts include one that found no evidence for ongoing HIV Replication in lymph nodes during suppressive ART therapy.




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Benjamin M. Adams