A study in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Pathology shows that a new HIV viral load test that identifies small amounts of HIV's p24 protein is 25 times more sensitive than existing viral load tests, The Wall Street Journal reports. The test, called the Real-Time Immuno-PCR Test, uses polymerase chain reaction to "amplify" small amounts of the virus for detection. Currently available viral load tests can detect about 50 copies of the virus in the blood; anything less than that is considered undetectable. The new test can detect HIV when only two viral copies are present. The test also can be used as a substitute for HIV antibody tests and other RNA screenings to detect HIV infection. Current genetic tests can identify HIV in the blood about 12 days after infection. The makers of the new test say their assay will likely be able to identify HIV infection even earlier.
The test is undergoing long-term studies for Food and Drug Administration approval. The researchers also are developing a portable HIV monitor that can be used in developing nations to monitor the blood-based viral loads of HIV-positive people on antiretroviral therapy. The monitor, which is being developed through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through a partnership with Norway-based Bionor, is battery-powered and designed for use in nonlaboratory settings.