Fast evolution of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is slowing its ability to cause AIDS, according to a new study.
According to scientists, research suggests that a less virulent HIV may be one of many factors that is turning the tide of the pandemic, and may one day lead to an end to AIDS.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Philip Goulder” author_title=”Oxford University professor and lead researcher”]
Overall we are bringing down the ability of HIV to cause AIDS so quickly. But it would be overstating it to say HIV has lost its potency — it’s still a virus you wouldn’t want to have.
Researchers at Oxford University found that HIV seems to be naturally evolving into a less fatal and milder virus. The researchers reached this conclusion after comparing HIV infections in Botswana to those in South Africa, where HIV arrived a decade later, TIME reported.
Goulder’s team enrolled over 2,000 HIV positive women and first looked at whether interactions between the body’s immune response and HIV is causing the virus to become less virulent.
Previous research on the virus has found that individuals with the HLA-B*57 gene have a protective benefit against HIV and progress more slowly to AIDS. Scientists found that in Botswana, HIV has evolved to adapt to this gene more than in South Africa, which means patients no longer benefit from the protection. The researchers found that this adaptation came at a cost to the virus by reducing its ability to replicate.
Researchers then analyzed the impact of the wide use of AIDS drugs on the virulence of HIV. Using a mathematical model, they discovered that treating the sickest patients accelerates the evolution of HIV variants with a weaker ability to replicate.
On Monday, campaigners noted that, for the first time in the history of the epidemic, the annual number of new HIV infections is lower than the number of HIV positive people who are receiving treatment. This is hailed as a tipping point in reducing AIDS deaths, FOX News reported.
At the end of 2013, 12.9 million people were taking AIDS medication to suppress the virus, 11.7 of which were from low- and middle-income nations. Researchers have made several important findings in 2014.
Researchers are now studying various injectable drugs that can suppress HIV for months at a time, rather than using a daily medication. Other scientists are working with broadly neutralizing antibodies (BNAs), which are immune cells that neutralize several strains of HIV, rather than antibodies that can only neutralize a specific virus, the Huffington Post reported.
Researchers are also making progress toward the possibility of a vaccine. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health may soon start a preliminary human trial based on research completed on vaccinating monkeys against simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).