New Breakthroughs In AIDS Treatment
For decades, the battle against AIDS followed a forked road: one led researchers to seek ways to stem the transmission, and the other had them trying to treat those with HIV, who are more susceptible. Oddly, it took this long for someone to entertain the idea of doing both.
Anyway, it’s in the works now, and the results are nothing short of impressive. The HIV Prevention Trials Network, an organization funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, recently found in a series of trials that a treatment can both suppress HIV levels and stop the patient from passing it on.
The trial, known as HPTN 02, was carried out on 1,763 couples in which one partner was infected with HIV and the other was not. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents were heterosexual, and the remaining 3% were homosexual; they came from 13 sites across Asia, Africa, and North and South America. They were selected in a way that the infected partner did not display enough symptoms to qualify for conventional treatment, partly so that side effects did not cloud the results and partly to avoid spurning drug-resistant strains.
Half of the couples were given conventional treatment following current protocol. The HIV-infected partners were given drugs only if their condition began to develop into AIDS or if their conditions fell below critical levels, measured according to the presence of a particular cell in their blood. Infected partners in the other half were given the drugs right away. All were taught techniques to avoid transmission, given condoms, treated for existing sexually transmitted diseases, and given regular checkups.
Since the study began in 2005, only 28 of the infected respondents had transmitted HIV to their partners. All but one were in the control group (the one given HPTN 02), proof that drugs can cure and stop transmission at the same time.
The results were so decisive, according to The Economist, that the study had to stop ahead of schedule. Doing so would mean denying the subjects of the treatment, which was so effective that cutting it off for science would be immoral.
The approach was first put forward by Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at the University of British Columbia. He has been pushing for the use of the drug for several years, and this study is the first big step towards it. A full cure may still take some time, but it looks like we’re well on our way.