HIV Microbicide Gel Tests Halted

This is some scary shit right here: scientists have stopped tests for a vaginal gel meant to block HIV transmission in unprotected sex. Scientists have been working with women from a number of African nations to investigate the effectiveness of the microbicide called cellulose sulfate. It seems it had the opposite effect. The San Francisco Chronicle elaborates:

An independent safety monitoring panel took a routine early peek on Friday at data from a study that had enrolled 1,333 women in Benin, South Africa, Uganda and India — one-third the number researchers eventually intended to include in their experiment.

Monitors found that 35 women had already become HIV-positive since enrollment began in July 2005, and the majority of them were getting the actual microbicide, cellulose sulfate, instead of an inert placebo gel.

The microbicide that was meant to reduce HIV infection actually appeared to promote it.

Scientists are not releasing how many women were, in fact, infected. They did say they’re “disappointed” with the results. Um, we should hope so…

What we don’t understand is how it’s legal for scientists to test this product on humans. Sure, some of the women may not have been having protected sex before the doctor’s came around, but it seems to us that by distributing this unconfirmed gel, scientists were tacitly endorsing unsafe sex. Responsible science or unnecessary risk? (Perhaps that’s why they took their test to Africa?)