HIV Treatment as Prevention: Science’s Most Important Breakthrough in 2011


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Cell structure of HIV. Image courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Science has deemed the HIV study known as the HPTN 052 as the most important scientific breakthrough in 2011. This clinical trial showed that people infected with HIV are 96 percent less likely to transmit the HIV virus if they take their antiviral medication as prescribed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50,000 people will be diagnosed with HIV each year in the United States.

Science and the Breakthrough of the Year

The journal Science has been issuing an annual award for the scientific Breakthrough of the Year (initially known as ‘Molecule of the Year’ as a play on Time Magazine’s Man of the Year) since 1989. Each year, Science recognizes the most significant research of the year; the top slot of “Breakthrough of the Year” is a coveted position, and a highly esteemed award in the scientific community.

HIV and the HPTN 052 Study

The HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 is an ongoing multi-site, randomized trial that examines the effectiveness of two treatment regimens to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV among serodiscordant couples (where one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is HIV negative). It has been found that the higher the viral load in a HIV-positive person’s blood, the greater the risk of transmission.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs reduce the viral load in the blood and in genital secretions. The HPTN 052 study compares the infection rates of two groups of HIV-serodiscordant couples. In the first group, the partner with HIV starts taking the ART treatment as soon as they are enrolled in the study. In the second group the partner with HIV begins taking ART treatment when he or she has had two consecutive CD4+ cell count within or bellow the 200-250  cells/mm3,  or when he or she is diagnosed with AIDS.

The study has enrolled 1,763 heterosexual couples for 78 months in nine different countries including the United States. The study was scheduled to end in four years; however, an independent monitoring board decided that after reviewing the results that all HIV-positive partners should receive the ART medication.
Click to Read Page Two: The Future of HIV Treatment and Prevention

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