This issue of the quarterly magazine from the Alliance for Microbicides Development is a special report from the international microbicides conference held in London in March 2004. Written for a broad readership, it provides an excellent overview of the state of microbicides research today, with accounts of individual presentations and cross cutting themes. Much of the work has yet to be published in the formal literature, making this a unique resource.

Following the structure of this biannual event, the report reveals the considerable progress being made in laboratory and animal studies of new microbicide candidates. Along with a better understand of how HIV infects the body following sex, is the growing realisation that different microbicides will need to be combined in a single formulation in order to block the many different ways in which HIV gains entry into the body. Researchers are also trying to develop better animal models that more closely reflect the infection process, and to test whether there is any risk of individual microbicides making infection more likely.

There is also a greater appreciation of the importance of having microbicides that treat sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV (as a means of reducing the risk of HIV infection), and the need to better understand the biology of HIV infection in the rectum following anal sex. Underlying this, behavioural studies are indicating that anal sex is a more frequent practice among heterosexuals than previously thought, as a means of birth control and preserving a woman's virginity. The report also features the highlights of discussions on the design of clinical trials, and the ethical guidelines that need to be established.


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