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Two women found with HIV-immune gene
By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-01 00:57

Two women have been identified as carrying a mutant gene that is immune to HIV/AIDS, the first such cases uncovered in China, a researcher said.

The finding is the joint effort of a research programme, "Association of Human Genetic Polymorphisms with HIV Affections,'' jointly conducted by the University of Washington in the US State of Washington and local Infectious Disease Hospitals and medical institutions in Guangdong Province.

Tuofu Zhu, associate professor of University of Washington and associate director of the Clinical Core at the Centre for AIDS Research (CFAR), introduced the programme to China a year ago as a part of his global research in nations in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.

"Before, such mutant genes were only found in Caucasians. The finding has encouraged us to do further research in China, with the aim of developing medicines to prevent and cure HIV/AIDS for different races,''said Zhu.

China is now at a key moment in adopting effective measures to control and prevent HIV/AIDS as the disease moves from high risk populations to the general population, in most cases though sexual transmission, Zhu pointed out.

Zhu said that setting up a research centre in Guangdong Province is appropriate due to its population has made it the best platform for collecting diversified samples.

Since a greater number of patients infected with sexual transmitted disease in particular are reported in Guangdong Province, sample collections are more efficient than other regions in China, Zhu added.

So far, according to Zhu, his programme in Shenzhen has identified 11 Exposed Seronegatives (ES) since January.

Zhu explained that the immune systems of some individuals may be capable of resisting HIV infection. These individuals who do not appear to be infected with HIV despite multiple sexual encounters with HIV infected partners are referred to as exposed seronegatives (ES).

To be specific, any one who has conducted sexual activities at least twice weekly in four consecutive months with an HIV-infected partner might be identified as ES.

Of 11 ES cases, two cases have later been identified as carrying the mutant genes.

According to Zhu's programme conducted in US during the past 10 years, of 100 ES people, 3 per cent has carried the mutant gene and is immune to HIV for life. 30 per cent is found to have mutant gene, largely reducing their chances of being infected with AIDS.

In Zhu's opinion, if medicine functioning similarly with the genes was put in the vagina and rectum, the HIV virus couldn't find its carrier to enter the human body and thus would be expelled.

In Shenzhen, both confirmed samples are women who have been exposed to HIV for many years but remained uninfected.

One of them in her 40s has kept regular sexual life with her husband without any protection measures for nine years. Her husband, who has affected the deadly disease by blood transmission in inland province in 1994 was hospitalized in Shenzhen's Donghu Hospital in July last year.

However, due to the limited qualified samples, Zhu said that it is still too early to draw any conclusion from the programme, adding "we definitely need more support from the local hospital, medical institutions and government to collect more data from the ES people.''

According to Wang Hui, a doctor at Shenzhen Infectious Disease Hospital who has conducted the sample collection of the project, told China Daily that it is a very hard job to find samples qualified for Zhu's requirement which demands highly detailed reports from test subjects.

"I've began to collect data from sexual partners and children of the 43 HIV patients in our hospital from this January. Only two samples were found,''Wang said.

Agreements for further research have been signed between local hospitals and medical institutions.

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