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South Florida Sun-Sentinel Profiles Three Doctors Who Have Worked to Reduce Vertical HIV Transmission

August 2, 2005

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Sunday profiled University of Miami researchers Gwendolyn Scott, Mary Jo O'Sullivan and Margaret Fischl, who have been credited with much of the progress made since the 1980s in reducing the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Fischl in the 1980s headed clinical trials testing the first FDA-approved AIDS drug, then known as AZT and now known as zidovudine or Retrovir, according to the Sun-Sentinel. After seeing improved survival rates among patients participating in Fischl's studies, O'Sullivan, then director of UM's Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and Scott, head of UM's Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology, in 1988 began a small trial with the University of California testing the drug on a small number of HIV-positive pregnant women. After no physical deformities were detected in the offspring of the women who took AZT, Scott and O'Sullivan received approval for a national trial, and in 1994 the study found that AZT prevented most cases of vertical HIV transmission. However, the three physicians "weren't always treated as heroines," the Sun-Sentinel reports. Some AIDS patient advocates in the 1980s called AZT "poison" because of its potential side effects, and some advocates called Fischl a "traitor" and accused her of backing the drug to promote her career, according to the Sun-Sentinel. O'Sullivan now works part time with Scott on studies of new antiretroviral drugs and their effects on vertical HIV transmission, and the two researchers co-founded the Miami-based Project Cradle, a not-for profit group that helps HIV-positive people and their families with bills, housing and other social issues. Scott currently oversees the care of 300 HIV-positive children, and Fischl continues to conduct clinical trials of new antiretroviral drugs (Malernee, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/31).

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