Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Newfound genetic clue to HIV rate in blacks

Newfound genetic clue to HIV rate in blacks

(07-16) 09:04 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- An international team of AIDS scientists has discovered that a gene variant common in blacks protects against certain types of malaria but increases susceptibility to HIV infection by 40 percent.

Researchers, keen to find some biological clues to explain why people of African descent are bearing a disproportionate share of the world's AIDS cases, suspect this subtle genetic trait - found in 60 percent of American blacks and 90 percent of Africans - might partly explain the difference.

Ten percent of the world's population lives in sub-Saharan Africa, but that region accounts for 70 percent of the men, women and children living with HIV infection. In the United States, African Americans make up 12 percent of the population but account for half of newly diagnosed HIV infections.

"The cause of this imbalance is not necessarily driven by behavior," said Phill Wilson, founder of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. "Gay black men do not engage in riskier behavior than gay white men, for example. African people with this gene may have a higher vulnerability."

Based on their analysis, the researchers estimated that this gene variant alone may account for 11 percent of the estimated 25 million HIV infections that have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa - roughly 2.7 million cases.

The gene study was led by Dr. Sunil Ahuja, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and published Wednesday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

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