Recent research supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has led to a new discovery to combat a pressing obstacle related to finding a cure for HIV.
According to officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an assay has been developed by scientists to accurately and easily count the cells that comprise the HIV reservoir, which consists of infected cells containing DNA molecules that encode HIV proteins. These cells have entered a resting state in which they do not produce any parts of the virus. According to the NIAID, this advance will enable researchers who are trying to eliminate the HIV reservoir to clearly understand whether their strategies are working. An NIAID-published news releases states that “scientists have found that the HIV DNA (proviruses) inside resting cells is usually so defective that it cannot generate new virus particles. However, most available tools to measure the HIV reservoir cannot distinguish intact proviruses, which can replicate themselves, from the vast excess of defective proviruses.”
A scientific team funded by the National Institutes of Health recently analyzed DNA sequences from more than 400 HIV proviruses taken from 28 people living with HIV, according to the NIAID release. Among these proviruses, the scientists mapped two types of flaws: deletions and lethal mutations. The researchers then developed strategically placed genetic probes that could distinguish the deleted or highly mutated HIV proviruses from the intact ones. Finally, the scientists developed a nanotechnology-based method to analyze one provirus at a time with these probes to determine how many proviruses in a sample are intact, according to the news release.
The researchers’ method can readily and accurately measure the number of rare, intact proviruses that make up the HIV reservoir in the hope that this new method will speed HIV research by allowing scientists to easily quantify the number of proviruses in an individual that must be eliminated to achieve a cure, according to the NIAID report.