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2016 Was A Banner Year For HIV/AIDS Research | The Huffington Post

2016 Was A Banner Year For HIV/AIDS Research | The Huffington Post EDITION US عربي (Arabi) Australia Brasil Canada Deutschland España France Ελλάδα (Greece) India Italia 日本 (Japan) 한국 (Korea) Maghreb México Québec (En Francais) South Africa United Kingdom United States NEWS WorldPost Highline Science Education Weird News Business TestKitchen Tech College Media POLITICS Pollster Election Results Eat the Press HuffPost Hill Candidate Confessional So That Happened ENTERTAINMENT Sports Comedy Celebrity Books Entertainment TV Arts + Culture WELLNESS Healthy Living Travel Style Taste Home Weddings Divorce Sleep GPS for the Soul WHAT'S WORKING Impact Green Good News Global Health VOICES Black Voices Latino Voices Women Fifty Religion Queer Voices Parents Teen College VIDEO ALL SECTIONS Arts + Culture Black Voices Books Business Candidate Confessional Celebrity College Comedy Crime Divorce Dolce Vita Eat the Press Education Election Results Entertainment Fifty Good News Green Healthy Living Highline Home Horoscopes HuffPost Data HuffPost Hill Impact Latino Voices Media Outspeak Parents Politics Pollster Queer Voices Religion Science Small Business So That Happened Sports Style Taste Tech Teen TestKitchen Travel TV Weddings Weird News Women WorldPost FEATURED GPS for the Soul Hawaii OWN Quiet Revolution Talk to Me Don't Stress the Mess Endeavor Fearless Dreamers Generation Now Inspiration Generation Paving the Way The Power Of Humanity Sleep + Wellness What's Working: Purpose + Profit What's Working: Small Businesses HEALTHY LIVING 2016 Was A Banner Year For HIV/AIDS Research Researchers made major strides. 12/01/2016 11:15 am ET | Updated 1 day ago 3k Anna Almendrala Senior Healthy Living Editor, The Huffington Post BananaStock via Getty Images There is still no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS , which affects  approximately 37 million people around the world. But there is reason to hope that the global response to this pandemic is improving.  Fewer people died of HIV in 2015 than at any point in almost 20 years, while new HIV infections are at the lowest point since 1991, the  World Health Organization noted in its 2016 progress report . That may be, in part, because at least two million new people began taking antiretroviral therapy  in 2015, the largest annual increase ever in the history of the disease.  For  World AIDS Day , we asked researchers and experts to weigh in on any other significant scientific discoveries and treatment strides worth celebrating this year. Read on to learn about the strides in vaccine development, functional cures and historical understanding that 2016 brought. 1. Geneticists exonerated “Patient Zero.”  Perhaps no single person has borne more blame for the virus’ arrival in the U.S. than Gaétan Dugas, better known as “Patient Zero.” Dugas was a French Canadian flight attendant who was presumed to have passed the HIV/AIDS virus to gay communities in the U.S. after contracting the disease during an international trip, according to The New York Times. His supposed role in spreading the epidemic (and the first use of the term “Patient Zero”) was chronicled in the seminal 1987 book And The Band Played On  by journalist Randy Shilts.  The only problem? HIV/AIDS was present in the U.S. long before Dugas came to the attention of health officials. In 2016, a series of intricate genetic tests on blood samples drawn in the 1970s confirmed this, exonerating Dugas. It also turned out that the name “Patient Zero” was itself extremely misleading, and stemmed from a misreading of the pseudonym “Patient O.” The letter “O” stood for “outside California” in a very early study focused on the Los Angeles region that was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Paul Volberding, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s AIDS Research Institute, called the genetic detective study one of his favorite stories in a year full of exciting HIV/AIDS discoveries. The study was critical in understanding more about HIV/AIDS, said Jennifer Brier, director and associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But she stressed that, regardless of evidence, it’s problematic and counterproductive to assign blame to one person or one region for the virus’s spread. “It perpetuates the idea that HIV/AIDS had to come from somewhere,” Brier wrote in an email to HuffPost. “I am not sure that this model of shifting the blame... solves the larger problem of addressing how we now deal with HIV/AIDS as a global pandemic.” 2. The NIH made a discovery that may lead to an HIV vaccine. The HIV virus is impossible for the human immune system to defeat on its own because the pathogen can quickly mutate to change its surface proteins, evading detection. But a newly discovered antibody ― a protein produced by the body’s immune system to destroy invading pathogens ― can powerfully neutralize many variants of the most common strain of HIV. Prior to this, the most