Scientists have finally identified a new strain of HIV discovered as early as the 1980s after advanced DNA sequencing techniques made an identification possible, according to The Wall Street Journal.
HIV is separated into four different groups: M, O, N and P. The newly documented strain, found in just three people so far, falls into Group M, which is responsible for 90 percent of human infections.
Scientists at Abbott Laboratories, which makes HIV tests, said the three people infected with the new strain, labeled L, are all from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They also said the L strain is unlikely to change diagnosis or treatment of the infection, as existing tests and drugs “are designed to target the parts of the virus that are common to all groups”; however, it is hoped that the new information will shed light on how the virus has evolved and spread.
“There’s a lot of mystery around why certain things happened. New strains can unravel some of that unknown history,” said Brian Foley, an HIV geneticist at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, which holds the largest HIV gene bank and sets the guidelines on classifying new strains. Dr. Foley wasn’t involved in Abbott’s research.
Current guidelines dictate that a minimum of three samples are required to document a new strain of HIV, but Foley said because of advances in DNA sequencing techniques — making identification more accessible — the guidelines could change to require more samples.
“One of the things we’re going to talk about next year is should you need, say, 30 samples instead of three to count as a new strain?” he said.