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It’s been over 30 years since the AIDS crisis took root in societies worldwide. This week, people around the world are participating in World AIDS Day to raise awareness of the ongoing pandemic with the ultimate goal of eradicating the disease.

The good news is that HIV/AIDS treatment has progressed substantially in recent years. The number of new HIV infections has declined globally by 21% since the estimated peak of the epidemic at the turn of the millennium. A recent report from UNAIDS highlights that almost 16 million people are now on life-saving HIV treatment worldwide – which is double the number of people since 2010. This represents a huge advancement that has led to UNAIDS putting forward proposals with the aim of eradicating the disease by 2030.

While great scientific and cultural progress has been made, there are still significant global challenges to controlling and eradicating the disease, and reducing the number of new infections.

For a snapshot of the latest significant research, we turned to the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database and its indexing coverage of more than 12,000 scientific and scholarly journals. Analysis centered on a group of elite papers on HIV/AIDS research—recent reports that have been cited by other scientists almost immediately after publication. While most scientific papers tend to take years to accumulate even a handful of citations from fellow scientists, other papers prove to be of immediate interest and utility to the research community.

Another Thomson Reuters database, a subset of the Web of Science known as Essential Science Indicators, culls these outliers under the name ‘Hot Papers,’ meaning reports published within the last two years that have quickly accumulated high citation totals.

Table 1 shows recent HIV/AIDS reports that have officially registered as Hot Papers according to citations tallied in newly indexed articles. The papers are listed according to total citations as of mid-November.

The top paper over the past two years was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. The research showed that early combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) may help individuals “to achieve long-term infection control and may have important implications in the search for a functional HIV cure.” Number three in the table, a report from The Lancet, describes a trial examining the use of tenovir to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who inject narcotics. Also on the list is a paper from the New England Journal of Medicine reporting that early antiretroviral therapy in an infected infant born to an HIV-positive mother is effective in reducing the child’s viral load to undetectable levels.

A main theme of the research, embodied in #2, #4, #14, #15, #18 and #19, is the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein Env, a binding site by which the virus introduces itself into a host cell. Given its central role in infection, the site has been of keen interest as a potential vaccine target, but researchers lacked precise knowledge of its molecular structure. These six papers provide missing structural data, thereby guiding the development of vaccines that will stimulate the necessary antibodies against infection.

Contributing to these half-dozen reports is a core of authors dominated by the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the Scripps Research Institute.  The most prolific of these authors, in terms of producing papers that have proved hot during 2015, are listed in Table 2.

Among the most prolific institutions, shown in Table 3, are Scripps Research Institute and Cornell University, with eight and seven papers, respectively. There is a change from our 2013 analysis that ranked Harvard University in first place according to production of Hot Papers on HIV/AIDS.

In terms of funding, as was the case in the previous survey of hot research, the US National Institutes of Health, as represented by a number of its constituent agencies, continues to be the most frequently listed source of support for the top papers related to HIV/AIDS, as shown in Table 4.

Rank Paper Cities
1 A. Saez-Cirion, et al., "Post-treatment HIV-1 controllers with a long-term virological remission after the interruption of early initiated antiretroviral therapy ANRS VISCONTI study," PLOS Pathogens, 9 (3): No. e1003211, March 2013. 195
2 J.P. Julien, et al., "Crystal structure of a soluble cleaved HIV-1 envelope trimer," Science, 342 (6165): 1477-83, 20 December 2013. 188
3 K. Choopanya, et al., "Antiretroviral prophylaxis for HIV infection in injecting drug users in Bangkok, Thailand (the Bangkok Tenofovir Study), a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled phase 3 trial," Lancet, 381 (9883): 2083-90, 15 June 2013. 169
4 D. Lyumkis, et al., "Cryo-EM structure of a fully glycosylated soluble cleaved HIV-1 envolope trimer," Science, 342 (6165): 1484-90, 20 December 2013. 153
5 P. Tebas, et al., "Gene editing of CCR5 in autologous CD4 T cells of persons infected with HIV," New Engl. J. Med., 370 (10), 901-10, 6 March 2014. 147
6 Q.X. Tan, et al., "Structure of the CCR5 chemokine receptor-HIV entry inhibitor moraviroc complex," Science, 341 (6152): 1387-90, 20 September 2013. 134
7 D. Persaud, et al., "Absence of detectable HIV-1 viremia after treatment cessation  in an infant," New Engl. J. Med., 369 (19): 1828-35, 7 November 2013. 131
8 G. Doitsh, et al., "Cell death by pyroptosis drives CD4 T-cell depletion in HIV-1 infection," Nature, 505 (7484): 509, 23 January 2014. 130
9 D.H. Barouch, et al., "Therapeutic efficacy of potent neutralizing HIV-1-specific monoclonal antibodies in SHIV-infected rhesus monkeys," Nature, 503 (7475): 224, 14 November 2014. 117
10 S.G. Deeks, et al., "The end of AIDS: HIV infection as a chronic disease," Lancet, 382 (9903): 1525-33, 2 November 2013. 103
11 C. Goujon, et al., "Human MX2 is an interferon-induced post-entry inhibitor of HIV-1 infection," Nature, 502 (7472): 559, 24 October 2013. 88
12 S.L. Walmsley, et al. (SINGLE Investigators), "Dolutegravir plus abacavir-lamidudine for the treatment of HIV-1 infection," New Engl. J. Med., 369 (19): 1807-18, 7 November 2013. 87
13 J.R. Mascola, et al., "HIV-1 neutralizing antibodies: Understanding nature’s pathways," Immunol. Rev., 254: 225-44, July 2013. 86
14 R.W. Sanders, et al., "A next-generation cleaved, soluble HIV-1 env trimer," PLOS Pathogens, 9 (9): No. e1003618, September 2013. 84
15 N.A. Doria-Rose, et al. (NISC Comparative Sequencing), "Developmental pathway for potent V1V2-directed HIV-neutralizing antibodies," Nature, 509 (7498): 55, 1 May 2014. 75
16 M. Pancera, et al., "Structure and immune recognition of trimeric pre-fusion HIV Env," Nature, 514 (7523): 455, 23 October 2014. 72
17 H. Samji, et al., "Closing the gap: Increases in life expectancy among treated HIV-positive individuals in the United States and Canada," PLOS One, 8 (12): e81355, 18 December 2013. 72
18 J.P. Julien, et al., "Broadly neutralizing antibody PGT121 allosterically modulates CD4 binding via recognition of the HIV-1 gp120 V3 base and multiple surrounding glycans," PLOS Pathogens, 9 (5): No. e1003342, May 2013. 64
19 C. Blattner, et al., "Structural delineation of a quaternary, cleavage-dependent epitope at the gp4-gp120 interface on intact HIV-1 Env trimers," Immunity, 40 (5): 669-80, 15 May 2014. 59
20 H.F. Gunthard, et al., "Antiretroviral Treatment of Adult HIV Infection 2014  Recommendations of the International Antiviral Society – USA Panel," JAMA, 312 (4): 410-25, 23 July 2014. 57

Table 1: Hot Papers in HIV/AIDS Research (2013 – 2015)
(SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science)

Of reports published in the last two years, cited at a rate notably above that for papers of comparable type and age in the same journal. Listed according to citations recorded in Web of Science as of November 2015.

Name Hot Papers
Albert Cupo
Cornell University, Weill Cornell Medical College
John P. Moore
Cornell Univesity, Weill Cornell Medical College
Rogier W. Sanders
Cornell University, Weill Cornell Medical College
Andrew B. Ward
Scripps Research Institute
Ian A. Wilson
Scripps Research Institute
Dennis R. Burton
Scripps Research Institute
Jean-Philippe Julien
Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto
Per Johan Klasse
Cornell University, Weill Cornell Medical College
John R. Mascola
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Pascal Poignard
Scripps Research Institute

Table 2: Authors of the Hottest HIV/AIDS Research (2013 – 2015)
(SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science)

Authors with multiple Highly Cited Papers are listed by number of papers (out of 20 recent, highly cited reports) to which each researcher contributed

Institution Papers
Scripps Research Institute 8
Cornell University 7
University of Amsterdam 7
Johns Hopkins University 4
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 4
University of California, San Francisco 3
Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard 3
University of California, San Diego 3
University of North Carolina 3

Table 3: Prolific Institutions Conducting HIV/AIDS Research (2013 – 2015)
(SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science)

Prolific Institutions are listed by the number of papers (out of 20 currently "hot" reports) that specify at least one affiliated author at the given institution

Funding Agency Acknowledgements
US National Institutes of Health (combined agencies) 33
Canadian Institute of Health Research 6
European Research Council 5
Scripps Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI ID) 2
National Research Council Canada 2
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada 2
Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research 2
Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard 2
University of Saskatchewan 2
US Department of Energy 2
Wellcome Trust 2

Table 4: Most Prominent Agencies Funding HIV/AIDS Research (2013 – 2015)
(SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science)

Prominent funding agencies listed by the number of acknowledgements in the 20 recent, highly cited papers