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Re-examining the HIV ‘functional cure’ oxymoron: Time for precise terminology?


For over a decade, the binary concepts of 'sterilizing' versus 'functional' cure have provided an organizing framework for the field of HIV cure-related research. In this article, we examine how the expression 'functional cure' is employed within the field, published literature, and community understanding of HIV cure research. In our synthesis of the different meanings attributed to 'functional cure' within contemporary biomedical discourse, we argue that employing the 'functional cure' terminology poses a series of problems. The expression itself is contradictory and inconsistently used across a wide array of HIV cure research initiatives. Further, the meaning and acceptability of 'functional cure' within communities of people living with and affected by HIV is highly variable. After drawing lessons from other fields, such as cancer and infectious hepatitis cure research, we summarize our considerations and propose alternative language that may more aptly describe the scientific objectives in question. We call for closer attention to language used to describe HIV cure-related research, and for continued, significant, and strategic engagement to ensure acceptable and more precise terminology.

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