Applying the Behavioural and Social Sciences Research (BSSR) Functional Framework to HIV Cure Research

J Int AIDS Soc. 2019 Oct;22(10):e25404. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25404.


Introduction: The search for an HIV cure involves important behavioural and social processes that complement the domains of biomedicine. However, the field has yet to tap into the full potential of behavioural and social sciences research (BSSR). In this article, we apply Gaist and Stirratt's BSSR Functional Framework to the field of HIV cure research.

Discussion: The BSSR Functional Framework describes four key research domains: (1) basic BSSR (understanding basic behavioural and social factors), (2) elemental BSSR (advancing behavioural and social interventions), (3) supportive BSSR (strengthening biomedically focused clinical trials), and (4) integrative BSSR (building multi-disciplinary combination approaches for real-world implementation). In revisiting and applying the BSSR Functional Framework, we clarify the importance of BSSR in HIV cure research by drawing attention to such things as: how language and communication affect the meaning of "cure" to people living with HIV (PLHIV) and broader communities; how cure affects the identity and social position of PLHIV; counselling and support interventions to address the psychosocial needs and concerns of study participants related to analytical treatment interruptions (ATIs); risk reduction in the course of ATI study participation; motivation, acceptability, and decision-making processes of potential study participants related to different cure strategies; HIV care providers' perceptions and attitudes about their patients' participation in cure research; potential social harms or adverse social events associated with cure research participation; and the scalability of a proven cure strategy in the context of further advances in HIV prevention and treatment. We also discuss the BSSR Functional Framework in the context of ATIs, which involve processes at the confluence of the BSSR domains.

Conclusions: To move HIV cure regimens through the translational research pathway, attention will need to be paid to both biomedical and socio-behavioural elements. BSSR can contribute an improved understanding of the human and social dimensions related to HIV cure research and the eventual application of HIV cure regimens. The BSSR Functional Framework provides a way to identify advances, gaps and opportunities to craft an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach at all stages of cure research to ensure the real-world applicability of any strategy that shows promise.

Keywords: Behavioural and Social Sciences Research (BSSR); HIV cure research; HIV remission; analytical treatment interruption; functional framework; people living with HIV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Social Sciences*
  • Socioeconomic Factors