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Anti-HIV vaginal gel prevents infection

July 19, 2010

This is how HIV gets in. Now how do we stop it? (credit: Microbicide Trials Network, University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute)

Big news from the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna: After more than a decade of research, scientists have finally developed a microbicide that works against HIV.

The clinical trial, which included nearly 900 South African women, looked at the safety and effectiveness of a vaginal gel laced with tenofovir, a drug that stops HIV from replicating. Half of the women in the trial received the real gel and half received a placebo. The researchers asked them to insert the gel before and after sex. Overall, women using the tenofovir gel had a 39% lower risk of contracting HIV than women using the placebo gel. When the researchers looked at the subset of women who used the tenofovir gel correctly more than 80% of the time, they found even greater protection. These women were 54% less likely to contract HIV than women in the placebo group. You can find the full study here.

Vaginal gels laced with antiretrovirals aren’t going to put a stop to the spread of HIV, no matter how effective they are. Perhaps nothing can. But they could still be an important addition to the HIV prevention toolbox. Women can use vaginal gels with or without their partner’s knowledge or consent. As University of Pittsburgh professor John Mellors said in this feature that I wrote on HIV prevention for Nature Medicine last year, “It’s empowerment, baby.”

For more on HIV prevention, take a look at the two articles I wrote for this month’s Nature supplement on HIV. The first, “Tiny steps towards an HIV vaccine” examines researchers’ progress in developing an HIV vaccine. The second, “Joining forces,” looks at other HIV prevention methods, including microbicides, and how they might be combined to get the most bang for our collective buck.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. eruditebitch permalink
    July 19, 2010 2:54 pm

    Wow! Finally a breakthrough for women in the fight against HIV. Something women can own and rely on to decrease their risk of HIV transmission. Took researchers long enough, eh? Seeing as men have had the latex condom for what, about 100 years? Oh… the inequities in the medical field. I’m still waiting on that BC Pill for men. Thanks for this post!

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