A major international HIV trial has been stopped after researchers found participants who took breaks from anti-retroviral treatment reported significantly higher health problems than those using HIV medication continuously.The study, including about 200 Australians and New Zealanders among more than 5,000 people worldwide, saw half the volunteers follow an uninterrupted course of medication.The remainder took anti-retrovirals only when key immune cell levels dropped, ceasing treatment if their immune cell count rose again.But the research, which began in 2002, found volunteers taking anti-HIV drugs episodically were more than twice as likely to develop AIDS or die than those taking the medication continuously.Participants taking drug holidays also reported an increase in heart, kidney and liver disease.Researchers had hoped to find fewer complications in people taking less anti-HIV medication, but ended the study last week when results suggested the reverse was true.An Australian AIDS expert involved in the suspended trial told The Australian the outcome was unexpected.We’d very much anticipated that some of the complications associated with continuous use of ART, such as liver toxicity, would be reduced with episodic use, Professor Sean Emery from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research in Sydney said.But the data shows toxicity occurs more frequently in people on episodic ART. That was certainly a surprise.The trial, known as Strategies for Management of Anti-Retroviral Therapy or SMART, was scheduled to run for nine years.

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