First New HIV Strain In 19 Years Identified

A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test at the Condesa Clinic which specialises in HIV in Mexico City

A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test at the Condesa Clinic which specialises in HIV in Mexico City

Scientists report they have discovered a new strain of HIV for the first time in nearly two decades, according to Abbott Laboratories, which conducted the research with the University of Missouri.

The newly discovered substrain falls within the same type behind the global HIV pandemic that kicked off in 1981. When HIV multiplies in the human body, it cripples the immune system, leading to life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers.

S-based scientist and distinguished Otago alumna, Professor Carole McArthur and her team of researchers, are behind the recently-announced discovery and identification of a new HIV subtype, which has been characterised by U.S. healthcare company Abbott Laboratories. Subtype L is now the 10th of this group and the first to be identified since the guidelines were issued.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 36.7 million are living with HIV worldwide.

"There's no reason to panic or even to worry about it a little bit", Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.

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Abbott scientists said the company's core and molecular laboratory diagnostic tests can detect this new strain of HIV. Not many people are infected with this. "This is an outlier". Her laboratory has analyzed more than 60% of the global blood supply. For such massive numbers of testing the units need to be able to identify the new strains correctly.

In 2000 the guidelines for identification of a new strain of HIV were outlined. "This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks".

"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". At the time, there wasn't technology to determine if this was the new subtype. They called it the specimen or sample CG-0018a-01. To confirm the existence of a new strain, it's necessary to have three independent samples. Rodgers said it was "like searching for a needle in a haystack", and then "pulling the needle out with a magnet". The third sample was found later in 2001 as part of a study targeting mother-to-child transmission of the disease. The team wrote, "Metagenomic (mNGS) and HIV-specific target enriched (HIV-xGen) libraries were combined for next generation sequencing (NGS) to extend genome coverage".

The researchers used new sequencing techniques to narrow in on the small portion of the sample with the HIV virus to sequence the genome. She is now funded for characterisation of rare variants of HIV in the Congo Basin and has developed a research lab in Cameroon focusing on HIV drug resistance.

Forms of this new strain of the HIV might be circulating, both in the DRC and elsewhere, but are unclassified as of now.

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