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For World AIDS Day, check out this top HIV research

Curated research is helping scientists tackle HIV; here’s free access to 20 articles from Elsevier’s journals

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Nearly 36.7 million people around the world are living with HIV. Since the start of the pandemic in the early 1980s, more than 70 million people have been infected, and 35 million people have died as a result.

On World AIDS Day December 1, people unite in the fight against HIV. The first ever global health day, it was founded in 1988 to “show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.” In 2017, the campaign is #LetsEndIt – end isolation, stigma and HIV transmission.

Research is key to ending HIV transmission: scientists around the world are working hard to understand the biology of HIV, how it is transmitted, how it replicates within the body and what kills it. Armed with this understanding, researchers can develop more effective drugs and work toward a vaccine, with the ultimate aim of eradicating the virus.

For this purpose, scientists need high quality, trusted research to build on, and peer-reviewed journals are a vital source of information. To mark World AIDS Day, the editors of several Elsevier journals have put together a special collection of articles on different aspects of HIV – transmission, testing, treatment and beyond. You can read this collection free until February 8, 2018.

HIV: a moving target

When human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) first emerged in the early 1980s, Prof. Eskild Petersen was working as a junior doctor treating malaria patients. He recalled the impact HIV had:

Nobody had really realized that you could have a new infection emerging that you didn’t know anything about before. And I think that the notion in the 1970s was that infectious diseases were a thing of the past. We had vaccines for some of the worst diseases, then suddenly this came up as a sexually transmitted disease, and it had a huge impact.

As a researcher of emerging infections at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Petersen recognizes the impact published research has had in the fight against HIV:

If you contracted HIV in the late 1980s or early ‘90s, you had no treatment. Young people were getting infected and dying in horrible circumstances of lymphomas and tuberculosis. Now, HIV is a chronic infection – if you’re diagnosed in time and you take the medication, it’s very effective and has few side effects. The life expectancy of someone with HIV is almost same as a person of the same age without HIV. Research has given us these tremendously strong tools and we have reached a point now where they’re so effective that if you’re undergoing treatment, you don’t need to practice safe sex with a partner, and you can get pregnant with a very low risk of the baby being born with HIV.

HIV is transmitted sexually, through breast milk and through blood contact – for example, by sharing needles. HIV infects immune cells: CD4+ T cells, macrophages and dendritic cells. Infection with the virus either kills these cells or stops them from working, breaking down the body’s cell mediated immune response. Over time, HIV infection can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) – a condition that weakens the immune system, leaving the person vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers.

Infection is treated with antiretroviral medication, which can allow HIV positive people to live long and otherwise healthy lives, managing their infection and keeping their immune systems strong. However, medication is expensive and often inaccessible in the places where it’s most needed. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1 in 25 adults lives with HIV. This, Dr. Petersen said, is why campaigns like World AIDS Day are so important:

People need to be aware that the HIV is not something of the past; we cannot relax. There has been a tendency in industrialized countries lately for people to stop taking treatments and even to get infected on purpose, so we need to be careful. Even though we can control it if we can diagnose it early, there is still a lot of stigma around HIV, and it’s not a positive experience being infected – you have to take drugs for the rest of your life.

Discovering key research

Researchers have made huge progress in understanding, preventing and treating HIV, but we still have a long way to go, as Dr. Petersen noted:

We still need a cure – medicine is lifelong, not just something you can take and stop. We need a vaccine. Over the last 25 years, research has been of enormous value to society – so many of the people who survive today would have died 30 years ago. It might be flashier to announce the huge impact of a breakthrough treatment or vaccine, but the reality is research is much more gradual. Scientists have been working on developing a vaccine for many years, and while there has been progress, it’s likely to be longer than a decade before we have something that works.

In order to make more and faster progress, scientists need access to the latest research, helping inform their own. They can easily become overwhelmed with the volume of papers published on HIV every day. Publishers like Elsevier are in the position to help scientists discover the research they need in order to make progress.

ScienceDirect’s article recommender tool uses algorithms to predict the papers a researcher will want to see based on their reading history, and with Mendeley, researchers can access and comment on papers they find interesting. Editors can also hand-pick articles to create virtual special issues and collections like this one, giving readers a shortcut to the best papers instead of having to search through thousands. As Dr. Petersen explained:

Research is creating new knowledge; if you do not disseminate to colleagues, it will not be used. Every time you publish a paper, there’s a chance somebody else will pick up your results and look at them from a different angle. Every paper is a small step on the ladder to the final result you’re looking for.

There are great possibilities in the virtual world – you can make a collection like this one. Previously we would only create special issues by inviting and printing papers. Now, if you have a portfolio of journals, you can pick out the best papers form each journal and give readers a rapid introduction – a shortcut to seeing what’s good and bad.

Read the collection

Scientific advances have led to better treatments and faster diagnoses, but there is still a lot to learn about the virus. Researchers around the world are working to find out more about how HIV is transmitted in order to identify weak spots that could be exploited. They are developing more sensitive, faster tests to diagnose infection, ultimately stopping transmission. And they are working on improving existing treatments and developing new ones.

Here you can read some of the latest studies published in Elsevier journals that are contributing to ending HIV transmission and stopping the pandemic. The collection is free to access until February 1, 2018. You can also find the articles on Elsevier’s World AIDS Day page.

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