Outwitting a Killer

UVic biomedical engineer "outsmarts" HIV

(RxWiki News) University of Victoria biomedical engineer Stephanie Willerth and a team of researchers have studied approximately 15,000 different versions of the HIV virus.

The information gleaned from the project -- the first of its kind -- has allowed researchers to locate the specific genes of the virus that are resistant to the drugs. The finding could help researchers develop more effective treatments for HIV.

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

The team replicated the virus from a small sample obtained from a long-term HIV patient who had developed drug resistance to drug treatment. The researchers studied the virus' genetic make-up using so-called next-generation DNA sequencing, a new method that allows researchers to study millions of molecules at a time.

The methods Willerth and her cohorts used can be applied to other difficult-to-treat viruses such as H1N1, Ebola, flu and even staph infections.

"Our research was unique because of the method we used," said Willerth.

"We isolated the genetic material from HIV, so that it was no longer alive, before we replicated it,” she said, explaining how the team combatted risks of duplicating highly contagious viruses.

The full study can be found here: http://bit.ly/hD7KuO

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Review Date: 
December 13, 2010