2007 June 18

HIVmirror – DNA Test for People with HIV

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted June 18, 2007 in DNA Testing, DNA and Disease

sparkly mirrorIn February earlier this year, Smart Genetics launched their first direct-to-consumer genetic test – HIVmirror. It analyzes the CCR5 Delta32 and CCR2-64I genetic variants previously shown to slow the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. The test is being marketed to HIV+ individuals for $99.

Studies have shown that people carrying a mutation in the gene that encodes the CCR5 protein on the surface of white blood cells, key cells in the immune system, are better able to resist HIV infection. Researchers have hypothesized that exposure to repeated plague outbreaks in Europe during the Middle Ages may have favored survivors with the CCR5 gene mutation. The CCR5 protein encoded by the mutated gene seems to prevent HIV from entering white blood cells and causing havoc in the immune system.

On average, 1 out of 5 individuals will have the CCR2-64I gene variant while 2-16% of individuals will carry CCR5 Delta32 depending on their ethnicity. The HIVmirror website states that knowing these genotypes should not change a person’s treatment, but may help to satisfy their curiosity.

While the test will not affect your treatment regimen, and you should continue to take all your medications no matter what the result, this genetic test can help your healthcare professional understand more about your body’s response to the virus. It can help them understand your unique situation and potentially help make decisions in the future.

HIVmirror can provide hope for some HIV+ individuals, but it also has the potential to give others despair. While some genetic tests like the deCODE T2 diabetes test are taken by people who haven’t developed the disease, HIVmirror is for those who have already been infected with HIV. As a former trained HIV/AIDS peer counselor, I believe these patients deserve a great deal of support and care. Here’s where an approach like DNA Direct (my current employer) that combines genetic counseling with private at-home DNA testing would be ideal.


NB: Speaking of DNA Direct, Lisa’s hosting Gene Genie #9: Genetics 2.0 at DNA Direct Talk. A lot of compelling reading and commentary.

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by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted June 18, 2007 in DNA in General

The June 16th issue of The Economist focuses on our growing understanding of RNA’s importance in molecular biology. Articles include:

  • Biology’s Big Bang: What physics was to the 20th century, biology will be to the 21st – and RNA will be a vital part of it
  • Really New Advances: Molecular biology is undergoing its biggest shake-up in 50 years, as a hitherto little-regarded chemical called RNA acquires an unsuspected significance
  • Little Hopes: New classes of drugs that exploit the new RNAs are in development

darwin bookBecause I just finished Introducing Darwin by Jonathan Miller and Borin Van Loon, I found the discussion about Lamarckism in the Really New Advances article particularly interesting. As it turns out, RNA may exert epigenetic effects that regulate gene expression and because RNA responds to the environment and can be inherited independently of DNA, Lamarck’s theory that characteristics developed during a person’s lifetime can be passed from one generation to the next may not be so farfetched. This means that we may inherit not only the DNA from our parents’ genomes but also any physical developments they may have experienced up to the time we were conceived.

It’s not just DNA anymore.

NB: Learn more about RNA epigenetics from Dr. Greg Hannon of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory who gave a presentation at The National Academies in 2003 – listen and see the slides.

HT: Sara

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