Published: Fri, November 08, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

University of Otago alumna behind major HIV discovery

University of Otago alumna behind major HIV discovery

"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack", says Mary Rodgers, PhD., a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics at Abbott, and one of the study authors. Her company tests more than 60% of the world's blood supply, she said, and they have to look for new strains and track those in circulation so "we can accurately detect it, no matter where it happens to be in the world".

Anthony Fauci, a director at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said the current treatments for HIV are effective against the new strain. However, scientists are confident that with enormous advances in medical technology since the New York Times reported on a "rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals" in July 1981, they will be able to effectively test for and treat the recently verified subtype. But, It is helpful for researchers to be able to collect and identify other forms of the virus as it changes and shifts throughout the years. "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out-think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution", according to Carole McArthur, professor, oral and craniofacial sciences departments, University of Missouri, Kansas City, and one of the study authors.

Research groups in several countries have been trying to develop vaccines against HIV, but most candidate vaccines have failed to provide substantial benefits in clinical trials. Fauci said, "There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit".

Since the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic, 75-million people have been infected with HIV and 37,9-million people today are living with the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, about 36.7 million people worldwide live with HIV.

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The two strains were "very unusual and didn't match other strains", Rodgers said.

To be officially declared a subtype, researchers needed at least three proven cases of subtype L. The first two were pinpointed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1983 and 1990.

"By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet". A sample collected in 2001 showed some promising similarities, but it was hard to fully sequence. "Therefore, the CG-0018a-01 sequence will be important for determining the origins and age of subtype L", the researchers noted. Presently researchers can test the whole genome to affirm the examples were all piece of the equivalent subtype. The subtype belongs to the M group of HIV that is said to have caused the most infections.

The strain is now known as subtype L, the 10th strain of Group M. Different subtypes can also combine to form a "circulating recombinant form", also known as a CRF.

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