University of Victoria biomedical engineer 'outsmarts' HIV

December 10, 2010

It is estimated that 38 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV and that 4.1 million more are added each year. For scientists to design treatment therapies that are effective over the long-term it is essential to learn more about how the virus mutates and develops resistance to medications.

New, groundbreaking research by University of Victoria biomedical engineer Stephanie Willerth has significantly advanced the understanding of HIV and how to treat it.

"The mutates at a very high rate which is very problematic for because the virus eventually develops resistance to medications,'' explains Willerth, a faculty member with UVic's Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Division of Medical Sciences.

Willerth and her team studied approximately 15,000 different versions of the virus—something that has never been done before. This information has allowed them to locate the specific genes of the virus that were resistant to the drugs—knowledge that could ultimately help researchers develop more effective treatments for HIV.

Willerth says that the methods she used can be applied to other difficult-to-treat viruses such as swine flu, Ebola, influenza or even staph infections.

"To study all of these different versions we have to replicate them millions of times, especially when it comes to complex viruses like HIV," explains Willerth. "Because this research method requires a large amount of genetic material and there are obvious risks of duplicating highly contagious viruses, scientists have avoided doing this. Our research was unique because of the method we used—we isolated the genetic material from HIV, so that it was no longer alive, before we replicated it."

After replicating the virus from a small sample obtained from a long-term patient who had developed drug resistance to their treatment, Willerth and her team studied its genetic make-up using "next generation" DNA sequencing—a new method that allows researchers to study millions of molecules at a time.

More information: Willerth SM, Pedro HAM, Pachter L, Humeau LM, Arkin AP, et al. (2010) Development of a Low Bias Method for Characterizing Viral Populations Using Next Generation Sequencing Technology. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013564

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5 / 5 (8) Dec 10, 2010
Is it just me or does the title not match the story?

Still waiting for HOW they outsmarted HIV.
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
This is how:
"This information has allowed them to locate the specific genes of the virus that were resistant to the drugs—knowledge that could ultimately help researchers develop more effective treatments for HIV."
2 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
I believe that they outsmarted the virus by finding a way to augment DNA replication of different strains without the need to replicate the whole virus.
5 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
So rather than a cure we just have a slightly better idea of why a cure is just about impossible.
5 / 5 (6) Dec 10, 2010
I loathe it when they try to make the titles 'fancy' to lure readers, like in tabloids.

Science articles, at least, should keep their titles simple and truthful and should never be misleading.
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
I think this approach largely ignores epigenetic factors which may influence resistance. (I.E. Certain species of bacteria shift DNA expression once a certain threshold of bacteria density is crossed)

On another note, my lascivious, condom-loathing penis applauds this research.

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