B.C. health researchers have made a major contribution to the advancement of HIV research in a new study that addresses how strains of the virus can lie dormant in the body for decades.
Researchers at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) and Simon Fraser University (SFU), partnering with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Western University, have developed an unconventional new way to determine when hibernating HIV strains originally appeared in a person's body.
The study was published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the researchers, dormant HIV strains can integrate their DNA into the body's cells, and can remain unreachable by antiretroviral treatments and the immune system. Consequently, as they can reactivate at any point in time, HIV treatment needs to be continued throughout a person's life.
“Scientists have long known that strains of HIV can remain essentially in hibernation in an individual living with HIV, only to reactivate many years later," the study's lead author Dr. Zabrina Brumme stated in a news release. "Our study confirms that the latent HIV reservoir is genetically diverse and can contain viral strains dating back to transmission.”
Researchers compared dormant HIV strains with those that evolved within an individual living with HIV over the span of their infection. For the study, researchers drew upon a historical repository at BC-CfE of blood specimens from British Columbians diagnosed with HIV dating back to 1996.
“By creating family trees of viruses using a technique called molecular phylogenetics, we can reconstruct the evolutionary history of HIV within a person,” Brad Jones, UBC Ph.D. student at the BC-CfE and the study's first author, explained in the news release. “In essence, we created a highly calibrated ‘time machine’ that gives us a specific time stamp for when each dormant HIV strain originally appeared in a person.”
This new framework offers potential applications that may contribute towards advancement in finding a cure.
Speaking to the significance to the study, BC-CfE director Dr. Julio Montaner added that “curative strategies will need to address this new study’s key findings".
BC-CfE announced on August 13 that SFU professor Dr. Brumme was appointed director of the BC-CfE Laboratory.