The ability of the HIV virus to lie dormant in a "reservoir" of CD4 cells has been the main obstacle to finding a cure; once a patient starts antiretroviral therapy, it becomes very important to tell how much virus is still left and whether it can replicate.
Most tests available for detecting the virus are not very cost effective and take a lot of time. The most widely available test at the moment is the "quantitative viral outgrowth assay" (Q-VOA). It requires large amounts of blood, a lot of work and is quite expensive. Additionally, the Q-VOA may also underestimate the amount of virus left.
But now, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's (Pitt) Graduate School of Public Health in Pennsylvania announce that they have come up with a quicker, easier, less expensive and more efficient way of checking whether or not HIV is still hiding in CD4 cells.
The new study - published in the journal Nature Medicine - details the new test, which the researchers have dubbed the "TZA test."
TZA works by detecting a gene that is active only when replication-competent HIV is present.
The TZA test produces results in 7 days, compared with the 14 days needed by the Q-VOA and it costs only a third of the Q-VOA price. Additionally, it requires a much smaller amount of blood and number of cells.
Importantly, the TZA test revealed that in people who seem to be almost fully cured of HIV, the amount of latent virus is actually 70 percent higher than what previous tests were able to detect.
How cool is that? We hope we're getting closer to an even brighter future!