UVic Biomedical Engineer Discovers A Way To “Outsmart” HIV

HIV-budding-ColorPresently it is estimated that nearly 40 million people are carriers of HIV, and nearly 5 million more are infected each year. Because HIV is an ever-changing virus it is imperative that scientists development therapeutic treatments that are effective in the long run and learn how the virus mutates and develops medication resistance.

Stephanie Willerth, a faculty member from one of the best biomedical engineering schools, University of Victoria, has made some recent advancements in medical science’s understanding of HIV and its methods of treatment.

Because HIV mutates at an exceptional rate, it develops a resistance to medications over time. Willerth and her team looked at approximately 15,000 variants of the virus, allowing them to determine which genes of the virus became resistant to the treatment drugs. Ultimately this may help researchers develop more effective treatments for HIV. Willerth notes that the same methods can be applied to other diseases which are difficult to treat such as influenza and staphylococcus infections.

In order to study the different variants of HIV, they had to be replicated millions of times. Due to the inherent risks lying in replicating a deadly virus, scientists tended to avoid doing this. Willerth and her team used a different method, instead isolating the genetic material from the HIV before proceeding to replicate it. Because it was no longer alive at that point, the HIV posed no threat.

After replication of a drug-resistant form of the virus from a small sample obtained from an infected patient, Willerth’s team examined its genetic components using the latest in DNA sequencing technology which allows researchers to examine millions of molecules at once. With advances and improvements made in biomedical engineering and treatment methods, serious and deadly diseases like HIV may eventually become a thing of the past.

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