Scientists working with Abbott Laboratories in the United States say they’ve discovered a new strain of HIV, one that took nearly four decades to confirm.
That’s because researchers needed to verify three occurrences of the unusual strain before they were able to report that it was, indeed, a separate HIV strain. A first sample came from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1983, and a second sample – also in DR Congo – came in 1990. A third sample of the subtype was collected in 2001, but scientists didn’t yet have the technology to sequence the genome and determine its shared HIV-1 subtype L status.
The Abbott team was able to develop the project, confirmed it was a new HIV strain, and published their work Wednesday in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS).
“Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said Dr. Mary Rodgers, head of Abbott’s Global Viral Surveillance Program and one of the study authors. “By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet.
“We’re making this new strain accessible to the research community to evaluate its impact to diagnostic testing, treatments and potential vaccines.”
The new HIV subtype is part of the same group of viruses responsible for the global HIV pandemic, the authors said. The discovery suggests there are additional HIV strains that likely are circulating in DR Congo and possibly elsewhere.