HIV advance named top science breakthrough of 2011

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
UNC Chapel Hill HIV  research picked as top scientific breakthrough 2011

Researchers have been trying to find ways to stop HIV with either a vaccine or medications to prevent its spread. One of the major scientific breakthroughs in 2011 named by the journal Science is the HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study, led by Myron S. Cohen, MD of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that found 96 percent of HIV transmission could be stopped in couples with early use of antiretroviral therapy.

The HIV prevention trial is just one of ten breakthroughs names by the journal for 2011.

According to the editors, “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.”


Dr. Cohen said the finding was 20 years in the making. The UNC team, consisting of virologists, pharmacologists, and physicians were finally able to prove that using antiretroviral drugs could significantly reduce transmission of HIV that causes AIDS in couples where one of the partners is infected.

The HPTN 052 trial was so overwhelmingly positive that an outside monitoring board requested results four years before the study was completed. The results were published August 11, 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Cohen’s work has been recognized by the World Health Organization, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS who plan to incorporate new policies to fight AIDS by using antiretroviral drugs.

The editorial staff of the journal Science chose the research that included 1700 partners – one of which was infected with HIV - as the top scientific breakthrough of 2011, after "much deliberation". Antiretroviral therapy reduced HIV transmission 20-fold in couples given a cocktail of antiviral medications.

Image credit: Robin Wullfson, MD


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