HIV drug study hailed as 2011’s top advance

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A game-changing study that showed how drugs can prevent the transmission of HIV has been named Science journal’s Breakthrough of the Year.

The HPTN 052 trial recruited 1,763 heterosexual couples from nine different countries, each including one partner infected by the HIV virus that triggers Aids.

Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) were administered immediately to half the infected individuals.

Earlier this year the dramatic impact of the treatment led to the trial being halted four years early.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that people infected with HIV are 96 per cent less likely to transmit the virus to their partners after ARV treatment.

Science news correspondent Jon Cohen said: “Many researchers now believe it is possible to break the back of the epidemic in specific locales with the right package of interventions.”

The journal’s list of groundbreaking scientific achievements from 2011 also included:

Unravelling human origins: Researchers discovered that many people still carry DNA variants inherited from archaic humans.

Getting to know the microbiome: Research on the countless microbes that live in the human gut showed that everyone has a dominant bacterium in their digestive tract.

Tackling malaria: Early results from a clinical trial that enrolled more than 15,000 children raised hopes of developing a successful malaria vaccine.

Clearing senescent cells: Research showed that clearing “senescent” cells – cells which have stopped dividing – from the bodies of mice can delay age-related symptoms such as cataracts and muscle weakness.