Scientists discover first new HIV strain in nearly two decades

For the first time in 19 years a team of scientists has detected a new strain of HIV

Although the identification of a new strain provides a clearer map of how the HIV virus evolves. Rodgers said it was "like searching for a needle in a haystack", and then "pulling the needle out with a magnet".

However, Michael Worobey, head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona says the latest revelation is actually not that big of a deal given that the new subtype belongs to the most common form of HIV which accounts for roughly 90 percent of all cases.

Professor McArthur says it is the first new HIV "Group M" subtype in nearly 20 years and owes its discovery to more recent advances in next-generation sequencing. Both subtypes and sub-subtypes of the HIV-1 M group are believed to have originated from a single chimpanzee-to-human transmission. This strain is very rare, and expected to have the same response to existing antiretroviral therapies, which work incredibly well; if diagnosed early, HIV positive people now have almost the same life expectancy as those who are HIV negative. One of the requisites to pinpoint a new strain was that three cases of the virus infection would have to be identified independently in different geographic locations.

The sample found and collected in the Congo in 2001 was studied by scientists from Abbott Laboratories and the University of Missouri.

"There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit", said Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a statement. "Not a lot of people are infected with this".

According to estimates, 37.9 million people across the world are now living with HIV, while 1.7 million individuals contracted the virus past year. "Therefore, the CG-0018a-01 sequence will be important for determining the origins and age of subtype L", the researchers noted.

"Despite being the most recently sequenced subtype L strain, CG-0018a-01 branched basal to the two older strains from 1990 and 1983, consistent with CG-0018a-01 being more closely related to the ancestral subtype L strain than the other two isolates". A third isolated sample was found in 2001 and was the main objective of this study. In fact the team was not sure if the new strain behaved any differently within the body from other HIV strains. She added that Abbott was making the sequence available to the research community to evaluate its impact on diagnostic testing, treatments, and potential vaccines. In the current study, the researchers developed new techniques with next-generation sequencing technology to help narrow in on the virus portion of the sample to fully sequence and complete the viral genome.

"We really need to be monitoring them to stay one step ahead of the virus", she said, adding that "the program now includes 78,000 samples from 45 countries".



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