New test called more accurate in predicting progress of AIDS


WASHINGTON -- A new test that measures the amount of the AIDS virus in blood predicts the progression of infection to disease sooner and more accurately than the standard test, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh said at a scientific meeting in Washington yesterday.

The test also gives a better indication of a patient's chance of surviving for five years, they said.

It can be used to establish a system of stages of infection with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, in much the same way that doctors stage colon and rectal cancer, Hodgkin's disease and other types of cancer, they said.

Thus, the new test might be used to help determine which patients need anti-HIV treatment and when, said Dr. John W. Mellors, who led the team.

The researchers compared the new and standard tests on samples collected over 10 years from 181 HIV-infected patients who enrolled in a study financed by the National Institutes of Health.

The new test is called branched DNA and measures the amount of HIV in the blood, or what scientists call viral load.

The test used in the study was developed by Chiron Diagnostics, based in Emeryville, Calif. It is one of three companies competing to develop such a test. None has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The standard test is known as the CD-4 count. It measures the number of certain white cells in the blood that play a crucial role in the body's immune system and that are destroyed by HIV.

Dr. Mellors said his is the first scientific report comparing the new and standard tests in a long-term study. He said that in a similar study, Dr. Cladd Stevens of the New York Blood Center came up with similar findings.

Of the 181 patients in the Pittsburgh study, 116 died of AIDS and 65 are alive. Of the 181, 74, or 41 percent, received anti-HIV treatment. The remainder did not.

The new test was able to predict disease progress for up to 10 years, Dr. Mellors said.

Researchers are developing new therapies for HIV and are using them in a number of combinations. Dr. Mellors said the choice of therapy should be based in part on accurate staging of HIV infection. Some patients might be spared treatment for years, others treated more aggressively.

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