Journal names discovery that HIV treatment can prevent spread 'breakthrough of the year'

December 22, 2011

The finding of a team of researchers -- including several members from Johns Hopkins -- that HIV treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can actually prevent transmission of the virus from an infected person to his or her uninfected partner has been named "Breakthrough of the Year" for 2011 by the journal Science.

The clinical trial, known as HPTN 052, demonstrated that early initiation of ARV therapy in people infected with HIV reduces transmission of the virus to their partners by 96 percent. The findings end a longstanding debate over whether ARV treatment of HIV-infected individuals can provide a double benefit by treating the virus in individual patients while simultaneously cutting transmission rates, according to the journal. It's now clear that ARV treatment can also reduce HIV transmission.

The results were called "astounding" by Anthony Fauci, the government's top HIV researcher. Others have called them a "game changer" because of the near 100 percent efficacy of the intervention.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins provided oversight and support for all of the laboratory testing in the trial, and also performed quality assurance testing and other specialized testing for samples coming from study sites (nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Brazil, India and Thailand).

"It's wonderful for this trial to be recognized," says Susan H. Eshleman, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and head of the Network Laboratory for the HIV Prevention Trials Network, which supported the trial. "This research moves the field of HIV prevention science forward, leading us on a path toward curbing the HIV epidemic. It provides a new direction for HIV prevention research and is beginning to shape public health policy."

Eshleman says an important next step is to determine whether early initiation of ARV treatment on a wider scale can reduce the spread of HIV on a community or population level.
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Four other Hopkins researchers were among the authors of the study, the results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August. They are Estelle Piwowar-Manning, M.T.; Taha E. Taha, M.B., B.S.; David Celentano, Sc.D.; and Joel Gallant, M.D. Many other universities participated in the research, which was led by Myron S. Cohen, M.D., from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Johns Hopkins Medicine

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