A study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that anti-HIV medications suppressed the viral load of people living with HIV and provided protection against heterosexual transmission, according to a July 18 news release from UNC.
Researchers found a 93% reduction of HIV transmission when the HIV-infected person started antiretroviral therapy or ART at a higher CD4 cell count, the release stated. The study was published July 18 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The HPTN 052 study confirms the urgent need to treat people with HIV infection as soon as infection is diagnosed to protect their health and for public health,” Myron S. Cohen, MD, said in the release. Cohen is the director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and principal investigator of HPTN 052. “This study represents more than a decade of effort by a worldwide team of investigators and the tremendous courage and generosity of more than 3,500 clinical trial participants,” he said in the release.
Worldwide, 37 million people are living with HIV. HPTN 052 began in 2005 and enrolled 1,763 HIV-serodiscordant couples — where one person was living with HIV and the other was not — at 13 sites in nine countries (Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the United States and Zimbabwe), according to the release. Nearly all (97%) of the couples were heterosexual. HIV-infected participants were assigned at random to start ART at the beginning of the study when their immune system was relatively healthy, called the early arm, or later in the study when they had immune system decline, called the delayed arm.
Results showed a 96% reduction in HIV transmission from early ART compared with delayed ART, based on an interim study in 2011, according to the release. The study continued until May 2015 with 87% of the HIV-infected participants followed for 10 years. “The HPTN 052 results have helped to galvanize a worldwide commitment to a universal treatment as prevention strategy for combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with ART offered to all HIV-infected people, regardless of CD4 cell count,” the release stated.
UNC is funded by the NIH through 2021 to conduct research on HIV treatment, according to the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website. “Researchers at Carolina have been at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic from day one,” Marschall Runge, PhD, MD, executive dean of the UNC School of Medicine, said in a 2014 online article, “New global HIV clinical trials unit,” published on the UNC website, which reported the $40 million award from the National Institutes of Health given to UNC for the seven-year trials. “This award recognizes the scientific leadership and global reach of the UNC HIV/AIDS enterprise,” Runge said in the online article.
The website also stated that “UNC is home to a top-10 ranked HIV/AIDS program, involving dozens of researchers from laboratory scientists and clinicians to epidemiologists and policy experts.”
Between 2008 and 2012, the university received approximately $430 million in external research funding for HIV, according to the website. The landmark study HPTN 052 — named Breakthrough of the Year in 2011 — was spearheaded by UNC researchers. It showed that HIV treatment prevents transmission of the virus. UNC is also home to one of the largest HIV cure initiatives in the world, according to the website.
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