OAN’s Shawntel Smith-Hill
6:27 PM – Wednesday, August 2, 2023
A team of international researchers reported on a newly discovered gene found only in people of African descent that may grant considerable protection against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The gene variant is carried by an estimated 4% to 13% of people with African ancestry.
The viral load is reportedly 20 times lower than of those who lack the gene, and the progression of the virus is significantly slower with a reduced risk of transmission, according to Harriet Groom at the University of Cambridge.
It is the first newly discovered genetic variant related to HIV infection in nearly 30 years of research, according to the report, published on August 2nd in the journal, “Nature.”
The discovery raises hopeful expectations that could lead to the development of new treatments for people living with HIV, says Groom.
“This gene seems to be important to controlling viral load in people of African ancestry,” Groom said in a news release. “Although we don’t yet know how it’s doing this, every time we discover something new about HIV control, we learn something new about the virus and something new about the cell.”
With at least 38.4 million people living with HIV worldwide, the virus still remains a major danger to global health.
Even with numerous combination therapies that dramatically reduce the viral load of people with HIV and the rate of transmission, around 1.5 million people were still infected in 2021, according to reports.
Despite the fact that Africa has been affected the most by HIV, most viral investigations on the virus have been conducted on Europeans. The continent is home to around 25 million people who are HIV-positive.
“African populations are still drastically underrepresented in human DNA studies, despite experiencing the highest burden of HIV infection,” said co-first author Paul McLaren, of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory. “By studying a large sample of people of African ancestry, we’ve been able to identify a new genetic variant that only exists in this population and which is linked to lower HIV viral loads.”
The gene (CHD1L) is known to play a role in DNA repair, however, it is unclear what factors led to the reduction of the HIV viral load.
“With more than a million new HIV infections a year, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go in the fight against HIV — we are yet to have a vaccine to prevent infection, have yet to find a cure and still see drug resistance emerging in some individuals. The next step is to fully understand exactly how this genetic variant controls HIV replication,” said study co-author Manjinder Sandhu, from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London.
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