Abbott announces discovery of new strain of HIV

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on November 07, 2019

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This is the first such discovery in close to 20 years, and an important one for researchers

A team of scientists with US-based healthcare company Abbott has identified a new subtype of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), called HIV-1 Group M, subtype L, said a note from the company.

The findings, published on Wednesday in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS), show the role next-generation genome sequencing is playing in helping researchers stay one step ahead of mutating viruses and avoiding new pandemics, it said.

This research marks the first time a new subtype of ‘Group M’ HIV virus has been identified since guidelines for classifying new strains were established in 2000. Group M viruses are responsible for the global pandemic, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Sub-Saharan Africa, Abbott said.

You can read the findings here

Global toll

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.

Despite the work done by the global health community over the last few decades in tackling the HIV pandemic, researchers still need to remain vigilant to monitor for new strains to make sure testing and treatments continue to work, the company said.

“In an increasingly connected world, we can no longer think of viruses being contained to one location,” said Carole McArthur, professor in the departments of oral and craniofacial sciences, University of Missouri — Kansas City, and one of the study authors. “This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.”

Genetic sequencing

Explaining the science behind it, Abbott said that to determine whether an unusual virus is in fact a new HIV subtype, three cases must be discovered independently. The first two samples of this subtype were discovered in the DRC in the 1980s and 1990s. The third, collected in 2001, was difficult to sequence at that time because of the amount of virus in the sample and the prevailing technology.

Read more: Abbott, YRGCARE team up to track HIV, Hepatitis patterns

Next-generation sequencing technology allows researchers to build an entire genome at higher speeds and lower costs. In order to utilise this technology, Abbott scientists had to develop and apply new techniques to help narrow in on the virus portion of the sample to fully sequence and complete the genome, the company said.

“Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said Mary Rodgers, principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics, Abbott, and one of the study’s authors. “By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet. This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks,” the note said.

Mutating viruses

Abbott created its Global Viral Surveillance Program 25 years ago to monitor the HIV and hepatitis viruses and identify mutations to ensure the company's diagnostic tests remain up to date. As part of this research, Abbott scientists confirmed that its core and molecular laboratory diagnostic tests can detect this new HIV strain.

Also read: Abbott looks to set up a virus surveillance centre in India

In partnership with blood centres, hospitals and academic institutions around the world, Abbott has collected more than 78,000 samples containing HIV and hepatitis viruses from 45 countries, identified and characterised more than 5,000 strains, and published 125 research papers to date to help the scientific community learn more about these viruses, the note said.

Published on November 07, 2019

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