This group of “HIV elite controllers” opens up a new area for researchers to discover biological trends that could inform the creation of better HIV treatments and potential vaccines.
To date, viral sequence diversity has complicated HIV vaccine development efforts.
The researchers from Abbott, Johns Hopkins University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Université Protestante au Congo found that the prevalence of HIV elite controllers was 2.7–4.3% in the DRC, versus 0.1–2% worldwide.
The group published their findings today in EBioMedicine (part of The Lancet).
“The finding of a large group of HIV elite controllers in the DRC is significant considering that HIV is a life-long, chronic condition that typically progresses over time,” said Dr. Tom Quinn, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health and chief of the International HIV/AIDS Research Section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“There have been rare instances of the infection not progressing in individuals prior to this study, but this high frequency is unusual and suggests there is something interesting happening at a physiological level in the DRC that’s not random,” said Quinn, who is one of the study authors.
Abbott Park, Ill.–based Abbott was one of the early companies to throw its research efforts into combatting HIV and AIDS, developing the first FDA-approved HIV test more than 30 years ago. Abbott established its Global Viral Surveillance Program to identify HIV and hepatitis mutations and ensure that its diagnostic tests remain up to date. The efforts of Abbott and its partners discovered a new strain of HIV in 2019.
The program had plasma collected in 1987, 2001–03 and 2017–19 in the DRC, home to the oldest known HIV strains. The plasma samples enabled the research team to rule out false positives, collection site bias, high genetic diversity and antiretroviral treatment as the cause of non-detectable viral counts in 10,457 people in the DRC from 2017 to 2019. The scientists used Abbott’s Architect HIV Ag/Ab Combo tests and m 2000 RealTime HIV-1 tests to detect HIV antibodies and viral load ranges, respectively, in the patients.
“Global surveillance work keeps us ahead of emerging infectious diseases — and in this instance, we realized we had found something that could be another step toward unlocking a cure for HIV,” said Michael Berg, an associate research fellow in infectious disease research at Abbott and lead author of the study. “The global research community has more work to do — but harnessing what we learn from this study and sharing it with other researchers puts us closer to new treatments that could possibly eliminate HIV.”