Geneticists create first map of human HIV resistance

Scientists created the first map of human HIV resistance in an effort to find new therapeutic targets and to allow for individualized treatment strategies, according to a study published on Tuesday in eLife.

While the human immune system is constantly coming up with strategies to battle HIV, the genome of the virus also makes millions of mutations per day to adapt. In some cases, the virus is resistant to the changes the immune system makes, though the virus' ability to replicate is impacted.

"The virus survives but replicates more slowly, and thus its capacity for destruction is in some sense neutralized," Jacques Fellay, a researcher from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the co-author of the study, said.

The scientists analyzed HIV strains from 1,071 seropositive individuals and used a supercomputer to study more than six million variations in the patients' genomes to learn more about the human immune response to HIV. The researchers also studied the virus before patients underwent treatment, which required research into databanks established in the 1980s.

The research method gave the scientists the most complete global overview to date of human genes and how they express resistance toward HIV. The scientists can use the data to better understand how humans defend themselves from attack and how the virus adapts to human defense mechanisms.

"We now have a true database that tells us which human genetic variation will induce which kind of mutation in the virus," Amalio Telenti, the study's co-author, said.

The research could result in the development of new therapies based on studying the natural defenses of the human immune system. Scientists could also develop individually targeted treatments to take into account the genetic strengths and weaknesses of each patient.