A NSW PhD student will go through to the finals of a “three-minute thesis” competition with her work on the ethics of using placebos in HIV drug trials, after winning the University of Sydney’s (UoS) stage of the event.

UoS student Bridget Haire (pictured), from the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at Sydney Medical School, questioned whether it is ethical to issue trial participants with a placebo in order to test the effectiveness of an established treatment.

“What we need is a way of conducting trials that is fair, that is feasible and that is non-exploitative,” Haire said.

“We have to blend the best interests of research participants with the need to develop new HIV prevention tools.”

Haire is a policy analyst and advocate for HIV prevention and management and has worked in the HIV community sector for more than 15 years.

She recently completed her Master of Bioethics at the UoS.

Haire argues that another approach would be to give participants a trial treatment instead of a placebo then compare the performance of the two different treatments.

As part of an HIV trial in Africa, for example, participants were issued with condoms, which offer varying rates of protection against HIV, but not supplied with a pill which is already shown to have a high success rate at preventing the spread of infection.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition challenges postgraduate research students to present their research topic in just three minutes to an intelligent, non-specialist audience in an engaging way.

The 3MT competition also aims to give researchers a chance to practice explaining their work to people unfamiliar with their field, an important skill when applying for funding or engaging media attention.

Representatives from more than 30 universities across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the South Pacific will compete for a place in the finals, being held on Thursday this week at the University of Queensland.

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