New research at Boise State could detect HIV weeks earlier than standard tests

Posted at 12:07 PM, Jun 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 19:09:52-04

BOISE, Idaho — Current HIV testing methods can take weeks to months for identification. Research at Boise State University is speeding up that timeline, by a lot.

"We're developing a test to test right away within three days of that infection," said principal investigator and biology professor Dr. Greg Hampikian.

It will be an at-home blood test to study the RNA, where the actual virus particles are in the blood.

"One of the difficulties with sexually transmitted disease testing is we're often looking for the body's response, that's how we test for HIV for example, we don't look for the actual organism, the small virus that can be in your blood; instead we wait for your body to react and create antibodies," said Hampikian.

Waiting for your body to react and create those antibodies to test is what causes that delay in identification, as they take weeks to form.

"If we can push that time of testing down to very soon after you've been infected, have an at-home test, they'll know very quickly what their status is," said Hampikian.

Looking at those virus particles are Boise State biology and computer science, students. Studying the RNA sequences will give the researchers information on the specific response to the infection, providing even more info on the body's reaction at the beginning stages.

"It's all going to depend on what quality nucleic acid we can get from these dried blood spots," said research affiliate and computer science student Janet Layne.

Their lab timeline is rapid. The Idaho Department of Commerce awarded the researches a one-year grant and Molecular Testing Labs based in Washington is helping them make their work commercially available.

"We've got our corporate partners, or medical doctor in place, we have a student in computer science and one here in biology ready to go," said Hampikian.

Studying RNA is no easy task for the researchers since it's more unstable than DNA, but they're not scared of a little hard work to unlock more answers.

"You just get unpredictable results, and that's where you really get a chance to do all of your learning," said Layne.

Current methods of HIV prevention include a pre-exposure prophylaxis pill, PrEP, which is a daily pill to help prevent HIV-negative individuals from getting HIV.

The BSU researchers say order to get on that medication you have to be tested regularly, and the new at-home test can potentially get more at-risk individuals on PrEP quicker.