December 23, 2011
HIV Prevention Study Named ‘2011 Breakthrough Of The Year’
The journal Science named the HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study the "2011 Breakthrough of the Year."
The study evaluated whether antiretroviral drugs can prevent sexual transmission of HIV among couples in which one partner has HIV and the other does not.
The researchers found that early treatment with antiretroviral therapy reduced HIV transmission in couples by 96 percent.
"In combination with other promising clinical trials, the results have galvanized efforts to end the world's AIDS epidemic in a way that would been inconceivable even a year ago," the editors at Science wrote in their announcement.
The study began in 2005 and enrolled 1,763 heterosexual couples in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the U.S. and Zimbabwe.
Each couple in the study had a partner who was infected with HIV. The researchers randomly assigned each couple to one of two study groups.
In the first study group, the HIV-infected partner began taking a combination of three antiretroviral drugs. The participants infected with HIV were counseled on the need to consistently take the medications as directed.
The researchers saw nearly complete suppression of HIV in the blood of the study participants in the first group.
For the second group, the HIV-infected partners began antiretroviral therapy when their CD4+ T-cell levels dropped below 250 cells per cubic millimeter, or an AIDS-related event occurred.
The HIV-infected participants were also counseled during this study on the need to stick to strict treatment regimen.
An interim data review in May 2011 by an independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) found that of the 28 cases of HIV infection among the previously uninfected partners, only one case occurred among those couples where the HIV-infected partner began immediate antiretroviral therapy.
The DSMB called for an immediate public release of the study's findings.
"While I am obviously thrilled to have this research recognized as the Science breakthrough of the year," Myron S. Cohen, MD of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and leader of the study, said in a statement. "Witnessing the translation of this scientific discovery on a global scale truly is the best reward."
The complete top 10 list of 2011 scientific breakthroughs appears in the December 23, 2011, issue of Science.
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