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[BEIJING] Scientists have developed a highly sensitive method to identify the drug resistance of different strains of HIV/AIDS.

A study published in Nature Methods (7 January) links resistance to particular types of anti-HIV drugs with gene mutations at certain positions in the HIV genome. Researchers have developed a test to indicate whether these mutations have occurred.

So far, more than 20 drugs have been available to treat the disease, but rapid development of drug resistance has caused widespread failures in HIV/AIDS treatment.

Researchers from Duke University, in the United States, used tiny fluorescent tags, designed to stick to HIV genes, on genetic material isolated from blood samples of AIDS patients.

When the HIV gene mutates to develop drug resistance the tags appear green, but when they do not mutate the tags appear red .The researchers then analysed the gene mutations to see what kind of drug resistance might develop.

Lead researcher Feng Gao said the test may help physicians guide patient treatment, by predicting if a patient is likely to become resistant to a particular antiretroviral drug.

"Knowing what resistance viruses in the patients have, will help choose the best combinations of drugs to delay resistance to new treatment regimens," Gao told SciDev.Net.

The scientists say their method could also be used to detect drug resistance in other infectious agents, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and tuberculosis.

Hong Kunxue, an associate research fellow at HIV/AIDS department of the China Centre for Disease Control, said testing drug resistance was already been a regular process of AIDS treatment. "The Duke test needs to prove it is quicker, more accurate and more cost-effective than those currently used," he said.