A dormant HIV virus that “hides” in the body’s immune cells can now be detected with a new test developed by University of Pittsburgh researchers. The test is more accurate, faster and less expensive as well when compared to existing variants.
Searching for the Hidden HIV
One of the long-standing problems in dealing with the HIV virus is determining whether a person has been cured of such an infection. HIV is capable of lying dormant in immune cells for many years. The virus can be detected, but tests to trace hidden HIV are very expensive and time-consuming.
“Globally there are substantial efforts to cure people of HIV… ,” senior author Phalguni Gupta, PhD, said in a press release. “But those efforts aren’t going to progress if we don’t have tests that are sensitive and practical enough to tell doctors if someone is truly cured.”
Dr. Gupta is the vice chair and a professor part of the Pitt Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology.
HIV infects CD4+ T cells, so its treatment has been aimed at controlling the virus to prolong life. However, there comes a point at which the levels of the virus are too low to cause a relapse if the therapy is stopped. In such cases, much of the HIV DNA in the patient’s cells is defective and can’t cause a relapse in the first place. To determine if a patient is cured, a lab test must be able to show that the virus can’t be grown from the DNA in the sample.
The test can detect hidden HIV genes that only “turn on” when DNA can replicate (grow). This new test takes half the time of the previous gold standard ones. It also uses a smaller blood sample and requires less labor. The researchers note it also indicates many patients carry a much higher HIV “load” than previously thought.
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