The journal Science has named research led by Myron S. Cohen, MD., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as the 2011 Scientific Breakthrough of the Year.
The program, known as the HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study looked into whether antiretroviral drugs can prevent the transmission of HIV amongst couples where only one partner has HIV. They discovered that early treatment with antiretrovirals dropped the contagion rate by 96%.
Science announced their top ten list of scientific breakthrough for 2011 today, and the editors said that :
"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."
It has been a long term project, spanning twenty years since the first anti HIV drugs came onto the market. It took until 2000 to consider the concept was strong enough to being tested, and another ten to obtain the results.
Cohen, who is Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Epidemiology at UNC, said :
"From the time the first AIDS drugs were developed in the mid-1990s, our UNC team of virologists, pharmacologists, and physicians has been working on the idea that antiretrovirals might make people less contagious ... This idea eventually became HPTN 052."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed up everyone's feelings :
"The goal of an AIDS-free generation is ambitious,
but it is possible."
The release of the results in May 2011 has been reverberating through the scientific and medical communities ever since, and as a result of Cohen's work, U.S. and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, have begun to incorporate prevention treatments into their policies and planning. The HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 has created somewhat of a revolution in the approach to HIV as it was previously thought that only physical barrier methods could prevent the spread of the virus.
Cohen's work was funded by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with additional funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, both part of the National Institutes of Health. Additional support was provided by the NIAID-funded Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group. Cohen was grateful for the recognition, but pointed out that science is more important that accolades :
"While I am obviously thrilled to have this research recognized as the Science breakthrough of the year ... witnessing the translation of this scientific discovery on a global scale truly is the best reward."
Written by Rupert Shepherd