Variability in measurement of the HIV latent reservoir. In Bruner et al. “Defective proviruses rapidly accumulate during acute HIV-1 infection.” Nature Medicine 22 (2016):1043–1049.

Project (2018)

Stigma and Cure: Challenge of Proof in HIV Cure Research

Over the past decade, research towards a cure for HIV infection has expanded and accelerated, leading to conceptual friction between biomedical and biopolitical systems of thought. Integrated into the host in millions of proviral copies, the human immunodeficiency virus becomes a latent part of the human genome. Interlaced within our own genetic code, the virus eludes attempts to detect, awaken, separate, and remove it. Its persistence has led to a novel scientific distinction between sterilizing and functional cure. A sterilizing cure aims to eliminate all trace of the virus from the host; a functional cure would allow the two to coexist in a state of benign equilibrium. This distinction, and others hidden within it, serves as the launching point for my proposed investigation of cure as a malleable concept.

In Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag argues that diseases for which there is no cure are particularly potent metaphors for spiritual and political dissolution. But what is a cure? How is it proven? What data allow us to determine that a disease has been cured? With what degree of certainty and with what finality? Utilizing archival and contemporary studies, I will determine which molecular proofs are mobilized to detect and define cure in the context of HIV and related sexually transmitted infections. Further, I will look for the reflection of these proofs in the resulting narratives of cure that bind the molecular world to the body politic.