According to researchers, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may lose its ability to cause AIDS over time as more people take anti-retroviral drugs to keep the infection at bay.
2,000 HIV-infected women in Botswana and South Africa were part of the study. Researchers found that women in Botswana no longer benefited from the protective effect of a gene variant, HLA-B*57, which typically means people progress more slowly than usual to full-blown AIDS. However, they also found that the loss of this protection was not necessarily bad, because it was accompanied by a reduced ability for HIV to replicate, making the virus less powerful, or virulent.
While studying the impact of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) on the potency of HIV, the researchers concluded that 'selective treatment' of people with low immune cell counts will 'accelerate the evolution of HIV variants with a weaker ability to replicate'.
"The widespread use of ART is an important step towards the control of HIV. This research is a good example of how further research into HIV and drug resistance can help scientists to eliminate HIV," said Mike Turner, Head of Infection and Immunobiology at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study.
The study is published in the peer-reviewed US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.