New Strategy Discerns Early Stages Of HIV Infection, Paving Way For Targeted Study And Therapy

Researchers have devised a strategy for determining how long a person has been infected with HIV. And the finding, said one of the investigators, could revolutionize the approach to understanding early HIV infection, developing appropriate early treatments and estimating the incidence of HIV infection on a national scale.

The multi-institutional finding was reported in the July 1 special issue of JAMA. The general diagnostic approach will also be discussed in a number of sessions at the 12th World AIDS Conference in Geneva next week. The study was conducted by researchers at eight public and private institutions. The new tactic addresses what has been a major obstacle in the study and treatment of patients with HIV infection: the inability to determine how long a person has been infected with the virus, particularly in the early stages of infection.

Diagnosis is made when blood tests indicate that a person either carries the HIV virus or has antibodies to the virus. But these tests do not distinguish infection that occurred 10 days previously from infection that occurred 10 months before. As a result, scientists have not been able to study and tailor treatment to people with the earliest stages of the disease.

The researchers set out to overcome this roadblock. They modified the existing HIV test, called an enzyme immunoassay, to make it less sensitive than the original version. They then administered both tests to 579 people with HIV or AIDS. The result was that some people reacted only to the more sensitive form of the test. And these people, the researchers determined through subsequent study, had a more recent infection.

"This is the first test we've had that sensitively distinguishes patients with the very early stages of HIV from those with more advanced disease," said Margaret Chesney, PhD, a UCSF professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, part of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute (ARI) and a co-aut

Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
(415) 476-2557
University of California - San Francisco

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