Robert Hogg

Biggest AIDS drugs study nets international attention

September 17, 2008

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By Helena Bryan

In Robert Hogg’s world, size matters. Oh yes, the bigger the better. And no, we’re not talking bank accounts, carat weights or parts of the anatomy.

We’re talking heavier stuff than that: large epidemiological studies like the one he and colleagues published July 26, 2008 in the venerable medical journal Lancet, which asked a big question: What’s the impact of AIDS drugs on life expectancy?

"The assumption used to be that you wouldn’t live very long with HIV," explains Hogg, a professor with the Faculty of Health Sciences and the director of the Population Health Program at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/ADS. "But advances in AIDS drug treatments during the past 30 years have turned what used to be a fatal disease into a long-term chronic condition and this study confirms that," says Hogg.

The research begun in the 1990s, involving researchers from Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada, is the biggest on the subject to date. Results showed that a combination of antiretroviral drugs increases the life expectancy of HIV patients in high-income countries by more than 13 years. The findings amount to a big leap forward for HIV researchers, not to mention caregivers and patients.

They amount to big news. The Vancouver Sun, Global TV and AFP, as well as news outlets further afield in South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, picked up the story.

Still, while global in scope with broad implications for governments, the insurance industry and health care, the study’s greatest consequence is the mind shift the results will create for individuals infected with HIV, says Hogg. "Imagine knowing that with the right mix of medication you could live many years longer."

Now, Hogg is planning a similar collaborative study on life expectancy and AIDS in low-income countries, where there are a number of confounding factors such as Tuberculosis, poverty and a lack of resources. He reiterates again the importance of size: "It’s only through these collaborative cohorts that you can ask the big questions," he says. "The future of epidemiological research in HIV really is in these large studies."
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