Ethics & Human Research
The Essential Need for Trust When Transmission Risk Cannot Be Eliminated in HIV-Remission Trials
Analytic treatment interruption (ATI) is scientifically necessary in HIV-remission (“cure”) studies to test the effects of new interventions. However, stopping antiretroviral treatment poses risks to research participants and their sexual partners. Ethical debate about whether and how to conduct such studies has largely centered on designing risk-mitigation strategies and identifying the responsibilities of research stakeholders. In this paper, we argue that because the possibility of HIV transmission from research participants to partners during ATI cannot practicably be eliminated—that is, it is ineliminable—the successful conduct of such trials ultimately depends on relationships of trust and trustworthiness. We describe our experiences with conducting and studying HIV-remission trials with ATI in Thailand to examine the strengths, complexities, and limitations of the risk-mitigation and responsibility approaches and to explore ways in which the building of trust—and trustworthiness—may help enhance the scientific, practical, and ethical dimensions of these trials.