Advancements in paediatric HIV research: Insights from the EPIICAL general assembly meeting 

29 Nov, 2023

In the quest to enhance our understanding of paediatric HIV and improve treatment outcomes, the EPIICAL project has worked tirelessly for the past eight years to gather and generate knowledge on HIV in children. Established with the ambitious goal of creating models to predict how children’s bodies respond to early antiretroviral therapy (ART) and treatment interruption, the EPIICAL project has also aimed to refine methods for understanding immune, viral, and genetic factors associated with controlling the virus.  

The EPIICAL general assembly meeting, held on 7-10 November 2023, provided a great opportunity to discuss and share progress and possibilities for information generated by the project to continue to be used and contribute towards the development of a possible cure for HIV in children once the project ends in 2024. 

Children born with HIV face distinct challenges compared to adults. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial, as the developing immune system in children may respond differently to the virus. Moreover, children born with HIV need to take medication for life, making them more susceptible to toxicity and the population that would benefit the most from a possible cure for HIV. 

Studies within EPIICAL are investigating the impact of early ART on children and identifying the factors that influence low HIV levels in children who have suppressed the virus. By identifying these factors, EPIICAL researchers hope to explore the differences in immunological and viral features between those with low and high HIV levels. Another aspect of the project is distinguishing children who have not suppressed the virus but have excellent control of HIV in terms of clinical, viral, and immunological aspects from those without such control. This data could provide valuable insights into early treatment interventions and their long-term impact on children living with HIV. 

As HIV is multifaceted in nature, the EPIICAL project also emphasizes the factors beyond the biological and clinical. Understanding the social, psychological, and cultural factors that influence the well-being of children living with HIV is imperative. Social sciences have been well integrated into the research framework, ensuring the project provides a holistic approach to the care and treatment of HIV in children. 

The pursuit of a cure for paediatric HIV represents a beacon of hope for countless children and their families worldwide. While challenges persist, the dedication of researchers and collaborators within the EPIICAL project and their holistic approach to understanding HIV in children holds the potential to unlock new possibilities in the fight against HIV. As the EPIICAL and other studies progress, the scientific community remains optimistic that a future without paediatric HIV is within reach.