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HIV discovery is top scientific breakthrough in 2011

HIVAn HIV discovery from clinical trials of researchers led by a scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was called by the journal Science as the most important scientific breakthrough of 2011.

The discovery was that early anti-retroviral drugs treatment significantly reduced by about 96 percent the risk of transmitting HIV from infected persons. That discovery may dramatically help reduce the spread of the disease.

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The journal featured its choice of ten scientific breakthroughs in its most recent online edition.

“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,” the journal said in its announcement of the scientific breakthroughs.

The editorial stated further that:  “This is not to say that we can abandon the search for an AIDS vaccine or will profound change come overnight from the promise of using treatment as prevention. But for its role in making success conceivable, we have chosen the results of this trial as our Breakthrough of the Year.”

Dr. Myron S. Cohen, the director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases designed and organized the study. As principal investigator, he led an international team of colleagues in looking at the effects of drugs on disease transmission. The study covered over 1,700 heterosexual couples in nine countries that included: Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the United States, and Zimbabwe. One in each pair had an HIV infection while the other one was free of infection.

The National Institutes of Health funded the $73 million study that began in 2005 and was supposed to end in 2015. However, the results were so important that their early release was recommended by its independent monitoring board.

The discovery has been incorporated by the key public health international players in their policy guidelines for fighting AIDS.

The discovery is so important because the U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that AIDS has killed over 25 million people since 1981, when it was first reported. In addition to the loss of lives, the prevention efforts and treatment worldwide cost billions of dollars each year.

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