March 24, 2017
This week, a report in Nature finds that proposed federal budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could impair long-term studies and prevention research. Meanwhile, a study finds that about a third of what makes viral loads different among people living with HIV can be accounted for by the genetic makeup of both the virus and the individual. And another study finds that different subsets of HIV are transmitted to infants during pregnancy and breastfeeding. To beat HIV, you have to follow the science!
The proposed deep cuts to the NIH budget could disrupt long-term studies and prevention research, among other activities, Nature reports.
Epidemiological studies, in particular, depend on gathering data over a long period. Reducing funding levels during the course of such a study may interrupt that data collection process. The current U.S. budget proposal calls for an 18% reduction in funding for NIH, as well as an unspecified reorganization of the agency. Many other government science programs would also receive significantly less money, but a new fund for public health emergencies would be created. While such a fund is welcomed by scientists, it is short-sighted to curtail research that may prevent such an emergency, the journal notes.
"It's cheaper to prevent a public health crisis than to treat one after the fact," said Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, told the journal.
Additionally, the Nature report does not mention the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, but funding for the program's parent, the U.S. military, is slated to increase by 10%, multiple news sources report.
About one-third of the differences in viral loads among people living with HIV can be explained by the genetic makeup of both the virus itself and its human host, a study published in PLOS Computational Biology estimated.
Researchers analyzed genetic samples of both virus and host from 541 people living with chronic HIV infection in Canada and Switzerland. Human genetic variations accounted for about 8% of the difference and the diversity of HIV genetic material for 29%. Both footprints together influenced about 30% of a person's viral load.
Study authors caution that mutations in the virus may also be affected by factors that this study did not account for, including environmental influences and variations carried over from the person who transmitted the virus to the current study participant. The results mean that someone's genetic makeup affects viral load mainly through its effect on mutations in the virus, a related press release explained.
Different subsets of the HIV genome are transmitted to infants during breastfeeding than during pregnancy, a small trial published in Retrovirology reports.
Researchers studied the viral characteristics of 22 women living with HIV in Zambia who exclusively breastfed their babies. The virus found in infants who seroconverted in utero has very similar characteristics to that found in people who acquired HIV through heterosexual sex. By contrast, the virus in babies who acquired HIV from breast milk is more susceptible to the PG9 and PG16 broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNABs) than is their mothers' virus. These and other bNABs are of interest as a possible path to suppressing the virus without the need for HIV medications, and as an HIV prevention method.
The findings suggest that different strategies may be necessary for preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child, depending on whether the mother is pregnant or breastfeeding. Results also identify specific bNABs that might be helpful for this purpose, a related press release notes.
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