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The Weakening of the HIV Virus

A recent study on more than 2,000 women in Africa has shown that the HIV virus is slowing in its ability to cause AIDS. Scientists say that the research could mean that a less potent HIV virus could be one of the contributing factors in reducing the number of AIDS diagnoses worldwide.


Still, researchers in the study say that this doesn’t mean that HIV has lost its potency. AIDS is still a deadly virus that kills thousands of people each year.  But for the first time in the history of the epidemic, the annual number of HIV infections is lower than the number of HIV-positive people being added to those receiving treatment. This information represents a watershed moment in an effort to reduce deaths related to AIDS.


Dr. Philip Goulder, a professor at Oxford University who headed up the study, led a team of researchers who enrolled more than 2,000 women in Botswana and South Africa. The research team first examined whether the body’s natural immune response to HIV led to the disease becoming less effective in causing AIDS.


Previous studies found that HIV-positive people living with the HLA-B*57 can benefit from a protective effect against HIV and progress more slowly than usual to AIDS.


Goulder and his team found that the people living with HIV in Botswana had evolved, rendering HLA-B*57 ineffective. But the result of the evolution was the reduction in the ability of HIV to replicate – making it less virulent.


Researchers also found that treating the sickest patients with HIV medications also accelerated the evolution HIV, making it less virulent.


"HIV adaptation to the most effective immune responses we can make against it comes at a significant cost to its ability to replicate," Goulder said. "Anything we can do to increase the pressure on HIV in this way may allow scientists to reduce the destructive power of HIV over time."


The study was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).