Scientist Mary Rodger and her team have announced the discovery of a new subtype of the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV).

The new subtype was identified in 2000.

The team of researcher wonders if this new subtype will be more prevalent than previously known.

HIV stripe, used to test for HIV infection
An unused HIV stripe used to test for the presence of the virus in the serum .

The new strain might be rare since it has not been isolated for many years.

A new strain is not a public health crisis but will defy treatment until it is identified.

Mary Rodger, who works along with her coworker at the University of Missouri, has announced the finding of a new HIV strain, the researcher said she and her team are always looking for new viruses.

‘We are always looking for viruses”, she said.

Rodger who heads the Global Viral Surveillance program at Lake County–based Abbott, a research center that focuses on identifying new strains of Hepatitis and HIV and trends in their identification explained that the virus has different type of strains and that fishing out these strains is what they do.

“I think a lot of people might not realize that there is more than one strain of HIV and at Abbott we are making test to catch all of these of different strains, so it is important that we know all the different types out there.’

According to her, the newly discovered strain, known as HIV-1Group M, subtypes L, was first collected in 1980s in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there were only two samples that could be studied via gene sequencing, this therefore hampered further positive studies into identifying new type of the organism, a third sample was needed to confirm the discovery.

“In 2001, a sample that looks exactly like the first was obtained but the sample could not be fully sequenced. We couldn’t synthesize the virus, the quantity in the sample was just too small”, Rodger said.

Abbott research center, maintains a virus library with over 78,000 samples and information about the potential new strain were kept as part of that archive until 2018.

“We always wondered if there would be another subtype, and we always thought that there might be another out there if we just keep looking long enough.”

“If you think about the material in a sample of blood, it is like a haystack of information that you could sequence, and the HIV in that sample is just a tiny part of that sample, so we have literally created technology that acts like a magnet to pull that needle in the haystack and sequence just the virus”, she added.

From the sequencing, subtype L was confirmed as a variant of the M group of HIV viruses the organism that causes AIDS. It is not yet known how the new subtype affects the body, but scientist believes it behaves in much the same way as other M group stains.

Thomas Hope, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, noted that the discovery was important because they needed to be sure their procedure will detect any new variants.

‘It is important for us to know all the strains out there, it is important for us to understand that the test we are using will catch the new virus, the most dangerous scenario is when one goes to the doctor and say give me an HIV test, and the test doesn’t catch it”, she said.

The recent HIV treatment which can reduce viral load and prevent illness are effective against variants of HIV viruses including the new subtype, this means that a new strain is not a new public health crisis, but without identification of the strain doctors will not be able to conduct test on it.

Abbott, the company that produced the first test for HIV in the 1980s, is, in part, protecting the viability of its product, which in turn is important for public health.

“The primary concern is that HIV might evolve to the extent that testing wouldn’t work”

Abbotts test will now detect this strain and the research institute will then share its findings will other laboratories that are aiming on advancing science around HIV.

“We definitely don’t work in isolation, we are sharing this strain with the scientific communities, so that others can work on the strain and hopefully that can advance things like vaccines and treatments.”

“We are also wondering whether this new subtype might be more prevalent than previously known”, Hope said.

Rodger noted again that since no new sample of the virus had been discovered for years, it will remain quite rare, but the most important thing is continuing the documentation of HIV variants.

“We are not going to slow down, we can never become complacent, we need to be proactive, we are working t stay a step ahead of the virus, to prevent new infection, we have to understand how they have spread in the past”, she said.






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