The scientists found the emergence and expansion of three to five new strains of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type I rapidly replacing the standard viral strain, according to a press release on 'Emergence and expansion of variant viral strains of HIV-1 in India and other global regions'.
The discovery has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry by the group led by Prof Ranga Uday Kumar of Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit of JNCASR.
"The study is the first of its kind to identify that a major family of HIV-1 undergoing an evolutionary modification," the JNCASR release said.
The work consisted of an active collaboration with several research institutes and hospitals that specialise in HIV management.
The YRG Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE), Chennai, St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Bangalore, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences Bangalore, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi took part in the research.
Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, the USA also participated.
"The new viral strains appear to contain a stronger viral promoter," the release stated
In the lab experiments, the new HIV strains make more daughter viruses as compared to the standard viral strains. Additionally, people infected with the new HIV strains seem to contain more virus in their blood.
The data has been generated from individual hospitals from different parts of the country. The clinical findings have been substantiated by a quantum of laboratory experiments using viral, immune and molecular strategies.
A similar process of viral evolution has also been observed in other countries such as South Africa, China and Southern Brazil. All these countries have the same family of HIV-1 as India.
"It is, however, critical to understand that the experimental data are generated only through a cross-sectional (i.e. from a single time point), not a longitudinal, analysis," the release said.
"The data therefore should be considered only as suggestive but not conclusive. In fact, the scientists believe that the new viral strains of HIV are smarter in making more daughter viruses thereby improving their chances of transmission to new hosts but they are not likely to be promoting faster development of AIDS," it stated.
JNCASR is presently making arrangements to collaborate with five other research institutes in India (YRG CARE, Chennai, National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, St John's Hospital, National AIDS Research Institute, Pune and AIIMS) to conduct an observational clinical study.
It will examine if the new HIV strains are indeed more infectious in the clinical setting and if they are likely to modulate disease progression to AIDS.
"The study raises several questions with serious implications for the viral fitness, evolution and disease management. The most important of all the concerns is the possibility that the new HIV strains altering the landscape of the HIV demographics in India," it said.