February 07, 2019
2 min read

New tool can measure success of HIV cure strategies

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact customerservice@slackinc.com.

Carl W. Dieffenbach, PhD
Carl W. Dieffenbach

NIH-funded scientists developed an assay that may help researchers measure the success of their HIV cure strategies.

According to the NIH, the assay can easily and accurately counts cells that compromise the HIV reservoir.

“It really gives you a potential window into the dynamics of the reservoir, and then ultimately into the impact of specific therapeutic interventions on the reservoir,” Carl W. Dieffenbach, PhD, director of the NIH’s Division of AIDS, told Infectious Disease News.

Most tools used to measure the HIV reservoir cannot distinguish between intact HIV DNA — or proviruses — capable of replicating themselves from the “vast excess” of defective proviruses, the NIH explained in a news release.

Robert F. Siliciano , MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed DNA sequences from more than 400 HIV proviruses taken from 28 patients with HIV. According to the NIH, two types of defects were mapped among the proviruses: deletions and lethal mutations.

Siliciano and colleagues developed genetic probes and strategically placed them to distinguish between defective and intact proviruses. They also developed a nanotechnology-based method to analyze one provirus at a time with probes to determine how many proviruses in a given sample were intact.

The researchers found that the methods they developed could readily and accurately measure the number of rare, intact proviruses that make up the HIV reservoir. Their method could potentially accelerate HIV research by allowing scientists to easily and accurately count the number of proviruses that must be eliminated in an individual to achieve a cure, the NIH said.

“We could be looking at a game-changer, we could be looking at an also-ran. It’s too soon to tell, but the possibilities here are really important to acknowledge,” Dieffenbach said. “This is something that the field has been working to get: a reliable, simple assay that looks specifically at replication-competent proviruses in a small blood sample, or it could also be a tissue sample. This could be potentially quite large in terms of its importance.” by Erin Michael


Bruner KM, et al. Nature. 2019;doi:10.1038/s41586-019-0898-8.

NIH. NIH-supported scientists develop tool to measure success of HIV cure strategies. Available at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-supported-scientists-develop-tool-measure-success-hiv-cure-strategies. Accessed February 7, 2019.

Disclosure: Dieffenbach reports no relevant financial disclosures.