Researcher Focuses on Microbicides to Prevent HIV Transmission
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday profiled Dr. Sharon Hillier, a microbiologist and professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and her role in the global effort to develop a microbicide as an alternative to condoms to protect against HIV transmission. Hillier, a self-described "vaginal ecologist," has spent most of her 20-year career specializing in women's health and began working on microbicide development in 1994. Magee is one of three sites, along with Johns Hopkins and the University of California-San Francisco, performing laboratory testing for international trials of microbicides and examining how HIV spreads through populations and the risk factors for viral transmission. The World Health Organization recently made microbicides a "high priority" after several studies demonstrated that condom use was not increasing, despite large-scale public health campaigns. "[U]nfortunately women aren't always able to negotiate condom use" because men complain that it "interferes" with sexual sensation, Hillier said. But women could use microbicides as a "secret" alternative to condoms without their partners' knowledge, Hillier added. Initially, researchers hoped that spermicides like nonoxynol-9 could prevent the spread of HIV, but four recent studies in Africa have proven that N-9 is ineffective against the virus. Based on those results, NIH has begun funnelling more money into microbicide research, a "real change of direction for the agency," Hillier said. Traditionally, most NIH money has gone toward developing HIV/AIDS treatments, the Post-Gazette reports. Only $25 million of the $1 billion spent on HIV/AIDS research by the federal government goes toward microbicide research and development. But after a period of stagnation, microbicide research, with the assistance of grass-roots organizations like the Alliance for Microbicide Development, is "finally beginning to see the money and the will" to make an effective microbicide possible, Hillier said (Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.