​Centre for Medical Ethics and Law​


HIV Cure Research​

The Unintended and Intended Consequences of HIV Cure: A Social and Ethical Analysis

Six years ago, Timothy Brown, a man with HIV infection and leukaemia, received a stem-cell transplant that eventually removed the virus from his body as far as current research techniques can detect. Three years ago, a baby in Mississippi who received aggressive treatment immediately following birth was reported as being the first baby cured of HIV with similar cases recently reported in Canada and South Africa. These cases have launched a field of HIV cure research. On both clinical and public health grounds, the identification of an effective HIV cure would be a great achievement.  It could decrease morbidity and mortality associated with HIV infection, paving the way for comprehensive public health control efforts.  At the same time, curing HIV is best conceived not simply as an absolute medical victory, but also as a social intervention whose meaning and effects are complex and uncertain.

However, like other medical innovations in the past, HIV cure research and early cure implementation are best conceived as social interventions whose meaning and effects are uncertain. History demonstrates that the social meaning of a disease, including how it is represented and policies surrounding treatment and control, changes dramatically when advances in biomedical research transform from incurable to treatable and curable.

Uncertainties about the meaning and impact of HIV cure research underline the need to conduct research that is both theoretical (including historical, conceptual and ethical analyses) and empirical (stakeholders analysis and engagement). A proactive and multidisciplinary exploration of the social and ethical dimensions of HIV cure can inform the conduct of research studies and positively influence how HIV cure is perceived and implemented.

The Centre for Medical Ethics and Law of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, Guangzhou have been awarded a 5 year NIH RO1 grant to

  • Develop a historically-grounded theoretical and ethical framework around HIV cure research;
  • Identify and gather data from key informants and stakeholders; and
  • Develop an online social media forum to raise awareness and give voice to concerns regarding HIV cure research.

By doing so it seeks to enhance the ethically responsible conduct of HIV cure research and to facilitate the ethically responsible early implementation of successful HIV cures.

For regular updates see http://searchiv.web.unc.edu/

An educational video and information brochures have been produced to inform patients about HIV cure research – see https://youtu.be/oNfw9n5nBtU

Educational pamphlets

HIV Cure Research.pdf

Preventing HIV Infection.pdf

Managing HIV Infection.pdf