10 February 2011
By Malathy Iyer
Remedy Difficult As Virus Keeps Morphing
Scientists at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) have found in the case of a patient that the genetic sequence of the HIV virus in his blood sample was different from that in his sperm. The institute, located in Parel, operates under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
The NIRRH team, led by assistant director Dr Atmaram Bandivdekar, studied samples of HIV patients registered at the J J Hospital. We have so far studied blood and semen samples taken from 10 men," said Bandivdekar.
Dr Alaka Deshpande, in charge of the hospital’s antiretroviral centre, said the study was part of continuing research about HIV-discordant couples of whom only one partner has the virus.
The findings shocked the doctors. The genetic sequence of the virus found in peripheral blood mononuclear cells was found to be different from that in the spermatozoa.
The finding is significant because it underlines the virus’s instability. HIV is so weak that it cannot replicate completely. Hence, its genetic sequence keeps changing as seen from the same patient’s blood and semen samples," said Bandivdekar.
He believes this continual change is the reason behind medicine’s failure to cure a person of HIV or its fullblown manifestation AIDS. If the genetic sequence keeps changing, how can we find one medicine to cure all? The findings are going to be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Medical Virology.
But for both Bandivdekar and Deshpande, the study’s significance lies in that it settles a longstanding debate in the medical fraternity. We can no longer say that sperms are 100% free of the virus," said Deshpande (it is largely believed that HIV doesn’t affect sperms and is found only in seminal fluid).
Bandivdekar said the finding would impact the current practice of allowing HIV-positive men to have their own children using infertility treatment. While making a test-tube baby in a laboratory, the sperm of an HIV-positive man is washed. But we have to now study if the sperm-wash is indeed completely safe in not transmitting the virus to the embryo."