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Landmark HIV prevention study Breakthrough of the Year

A landmark study that found early antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce the risk of HIV transmission between sexual partners by 96 percent has been named Breakthrough of the Year by Science magazine.

The study, conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) and led by Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was published in the Aug. 11, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“In combination with other promising clinical trials, the results have galvanized efforts to end the world’s AIDS epidemic in a way that would have been inconceivable even a year ago,” Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts wrote in a news release.

At the time the paper was published, Sten Vermund, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health and HPTN principal investigator, said, “This rigorously conducted clinical trial demonstrates that ART dramatically reduces HIV transmission from an infected partner to an uninfected spouse or partner.”

“While this study provides definitive proof that treatment as prevention works, the study team recognizes this is not the end of the journey but the beginning,” Cohen added in the news release. “It is imperative that we continue to build on these results and evaluate strategies that can provide guidance on the use of treatment as prevention.”

The study, funded by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, began in April 2005 and followed 1,763 HIV-positive individuals and their uninfected partners in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Participants were randomly assigned to two groups: in one group, HIV-infected participants immediately began taking oral antiretroviral drugs, while in the other they waited until their disease progressed.

The study was stopped and the results publicized once it became clear that those who began ART early had a dramatically reduced risk of transmitting the virus to their uninfected sexual partners compared to the other group.

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