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  • Uncovering HIV Control Mechanisms through African Genomes

    A new discovery has been made in the fight against HIV, a virus that remains a global health crisis despite advancements in treatment, affecting almost 40 million people worldwide. Researchers led by Professor Jacques Fellay at EPFL's School of Life Sciences, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory and Imperial College London, have identified a unique genetic variation that could provide insights into combating the disease.

    Utilizing Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS), the scientists analyzed the genomes of 3,879 individuals of African descent living with HIV-1. This comprehensive analysis revealed a novel region in the genome with a strong association with the control of "setpoint viral load" (spVL), a key determinant of HIV infection progression. The identified gene, CHD1L, showed variations specific to African populations, linked to spontaneous control of HIV-1.

    Understanding the control of spVL is crucial, as it represents the stable level of HIV replication after the initial acute phase of infection. The ability to control this without antiretroviral drugs varies widely among infected individuals, with limited studies focusing on African populations. This oversight represents a significant gap in research, considering the disproportionate HIV burden in Africa and the rich genetic diversity among African people that could lead to vital discoveries.

    Professor Fellay and his team applied a combination of computational and experimental approaches to explore the biological mechanism behind this genetic association. They found that the CHD1L gene plays a role in limiting HIV replication in a subset of white blood cells. This discovery could pave the way for improved treatment options.

    "In addition, our results underscore the importance of performing genomic studies in diverse ancestral populations to better address their specific medical needs and global health inequities," stated Fellay. This pioneering research, published in Nature, emphasizes the urgent need to focus on areas where the HIV trend has slowed since 2005 or even seen alarming increases in some regions.

    The revelation of CHD1L's role in controlling HIV sheds light on the potential therapeutic targets and amplifies the importance of inclusive genomic studies. While challenges remain, this research represents a significant step forward in the global effort to control and eventually conquer HIV.

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