Have you ever had a bone for science? I did when I was growing up. I remember I used to want to be a scientist – I had so many questions about so many things, and I wanted to know everything I could learn. I enjoyed running experiments to see what would happen if you froze a soda or mixed things together. I was inquisitive. While I never became a scientist – or even a high school graduate (I was a troubled youth) – I still have an interest and respect for science. So I love attending a scientific conference, even though most of the language is above my pay grade.
Most recently I (virtually) attended the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, or CROI. The speakers and many attendees are the leading scientists/researchers in the world on conditions like HIV, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
At CROI, these experts report on their findings and progress and learn from one another. And some of us get to be a fly on the wall and listen in on the incredible news. I feel honored to attend CROI and share with you what I learned, like the impact of COVID variants on vaccines and the rationale for boosters. I learned how dependable they are. In fact, they're an unprecedented success story of our time.
Speakers also talked about COVID vaccine development and success rates, as well as challenges. And about the physicians’ fatigue that many health care professionals are experiencing due to the pandemic.
At CROI, there are no politics, no conspiracy theories, and no agendas – just science and a desire to understand and help. This year I also heard about a third HIV remission case right here in the United States. Unfortunately, like the other two cases, it requires a risky stem cell transplant. But it still gives me hope.
The conference sessions (I'm not gonna lie) were mind-blowing – in more ways than one. The information being presented was intensely science-heavy, for sure, but I still enjoyed it. Sometimes it was difficult to understand everything, but it seemed to get easier with time. It was hard to figure out what notes to take, so I came up with this trick: Take pictures of all the slides and use them as notes to write something about them later.
There's so much to learn at CROI, and so much the public needs to know. I remember last year, learning more about cure research and the progress of long-acting treatments in various forms, from injectables to implants to patches. That was exciting, because I had long wished for a monthly injection or something long-acting.
There were also Margarita Breakfast Clubs, so-called because attendees joined from around the world and it could be breakfast time or happy hour, depending on your time zone. This a small, intimate meeting that takes place before the official CROI day begins. It lets researchers and scientists not only present to, but also interact with, the community. That, by the way, includes CROI attendees and anyone else who would like to join. Conference registration isn't required to attend this session.
CROI is a fantastic conference and an amazing learning experience. You never know what you’ll learn. And since it comes directly from the scientists who are doing the actual research, it's information that you can absolutely trust. If you’d like to learn more about CROI, check it out at thewellproject.org.
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