Research Roundup: First new HIV strain discovered in 19 years, Takeda vaccine for dengue, and researchers use drones to pilot a new tool to fight malaria
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Scientists have identified a new strain of HIV for the first time in 19 years. This strain is part of the Group M version of the HIV-1 virus—the same family of subtypes responsible for the global HIV pandemic—and is the first new Group M HIV strain to be identified since the guidelines for classifying subtypes were established in 2000. Knowing which virus strains are circulating ensures that diagnostic tests used to detect the disease are effective and provides scientists with a more complete picture of how HIV evolves. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted there was no need for panic as current treatments for HIV are effective against this strain and others. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 36.7 million people in the world are living with HIV, and UNAIDS estimates that in 2016 1.8 million people became newly infected with the virus.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals reported preliminary results from a late-stage study evaluating the effectiveness of its dengue vaccine candidate, which showed promising but mixed results. In the study which tested two doses of the vaccine in more than 19,000 children in eight countries, the vaccine demonstrated an overall effectiveness rate of 80.2 percent against all four strains of dengue virus. In one strain, known as DENV-2, the effectiveness rate was 97.7 percent but the effectiveness rates in two other strains, DENV-1 and DENV-3, were much lower at 73.7 percent and 62.6 percent respectively. There was not enough data to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine against the fourth strain of the virus. Experts note that before final safety and efficacy determinations can be made about the vaccine, longer term safety data is required, especially among children who were not previously infected with dengue virus—an issue that has hampered rival pharmaceutical company Sanofi’s Dengvaxia vaccine.
In a pilot program in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, drones are being tested to deploy a new tool to help fight malaria. The drones will spray rice paddies, which are typical breeding grounds for malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, with Aquatain, a non-toxic, silicon-based liquid gel that creates a thin film on top of the water that traps and kills mosquito larvae and pupae by preventing them from breathing at the water surface. After the trial in Zanzibar, researchers plan to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and hope to expand their approach across the African continent. According to the United Nations, malaria kills a young child every minute and causes 75 percent of all deaths under the age of five.