10 Greatest HIV Discoveries of 2011
BY Michelle Garcia
December 01 2011 5:00 AM ET
1. Two major new drugs promise to make life easier for HIVers.
In January pharmacies began offering Egrifta, a daily injection that reduces the deep belly fat that surrounds organs like the liver and stomach as a side effect of anti-HIV drugs. Complera, which combines Edurant, Viread, and Emtriva in a single pill and is meant for first-time HIV medication users, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August.
2. Researchers discover breast-feeding is an option.
Many mothers prefer breast-feeding their infants to using formula, but that option is not always available to HIV-positive women. However, a study presented at March’s Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston found that giving infants a daily dose of nevirapine for the first six months of life halved their risk of contracting HIV from their mothers (compared with a shorter-term regimen), and among HIV-positive women with higher T-cell counts, there was a 75% reduction in transmission rates. Moreover, while mother-to-child HIV transmission is still possible through breast-feeding, another study indicated that antibodies found in breast milk, when isolated, can neutralize HIV and kill HIV-infected cells. While incorporated into breast milk, the antibodies do little to block the virus, because of IgG, another antibody, but scientists are evaluating how to enhance the HIV-combating antibodies.
3. A vaccine may have been found.
Scientists in Spain are testing an HIV vaccine that has proved more powerful than previous ones that have gone to trial. After a year of testing in humans, 95% of the 24 patients built an immune-system defense against the virus, and 85% of them sustained that for a year. Past vaccine trials had shown only 25% of those developed such a defense. The vaccine is specialized to protect against a subtype of HIV that is more prevalent in Europe, North America, and South America.