Researchers develop new test for HIV

Quicker detection would keep patients healthy longer.
A new test that detects whether patients with HIV/AIDS are infected with even small amounts of drug-resistant forms of the virus has been developed by researchers at Duke University Medical Center.
The discovery, published online Sunday in the journal Nature Methods, may help doctors more accurately predict which medicines will work for patients, and which drugs will ultimately fail.
Current tests only pick up drug-resistant strains if they represent a significant portion of the virus circulating in a person's bloodstream.
Detecting resistance quicker would make it possible to keep patients healthy longer, reduce treatment costs and even help cut an infected person's risk of spreading HIV to others. When drug treatment fails, the virus proliferates in the blood of infected people, causing them to become more contagious.
"This can be huge," Dr. Feng Gao, a Duke researcher and co-author of the journal article, said of the new genetic test. Gao's lab at Duke perfected the testing process and conducted the experiments to prove its accuracy and sensitivity.
To date, the new test has been used for research purposes only.
About the virus
Unchecked by drugs, HIV reproduces in an infected person's body at a dizzying rate. A single virus can make billions of copies of itself each day. The virus is not meticulous about making accurate copies, so tiny errors -- mutations -- occur as HIV replicates. When a patient takes antiretroviral drugs, the medicines kill off the most prevalent strains of virus, allowing the mutations to survive and proliferate. Some of those mutations help HIV resist drugs.

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