Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gene may make Indians more susceptible to HIV/AIDS

Times of India:

It is not just promiscuity, infected syringe or blood that makes a person vulnerable to HIV/ Aids. The genetic make up of an individual could very well decide his vulnerability to contract the infectious disease.

Scientists at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) say that there could be a gene that makes Indians more susceptible to the virus — more so people from the South. India has over 6 million people infected with the virus.

After extensive research, CCMB has identified five such genes out of which two are widely prevalent among people from the South.

Close to 75 per cent of HIV/Aids cases are from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. In the South, Andhra Pradesh is most vulnerable, with Guntur topping the list of HIV/Aids cases.

"The genetic make up of Caucasians make them more resistant to the virus as against Indians,"says Shailendra Saxena, CCMB scientist leading the research on infectious diseases.

"There is a high probability that the genetic structure of people from the South makes them more prone to HIV/Aids. These genes have been identified and we will be adopting a molecular approach to see the effect of HIV on these genes,"Saxena says.

This experiment will be performed in the centre's newly-acquired Bio-Safety Lab, Level III (BSL III).

"As per World Health Organisation norms research on infectious diseases can be done only in BSLs. BSL III, which though functional, is undergoing the validation process which would declare it ready for work,"CCMB director Lalji Singh points out.

HIV/ Aids is considered the most serious public health challenge in India. Till now places which send the maximum number of workers abroad and areas that fall on the main truck routes have been touted as the main centres in India that see incidence of HIV/ Aids.

"The fact that we are more vulnerable means that as a community we must be more energetic in promoting values of morality and safe sex. Also we have to eradicate drug abuse,"an analyst says.

As per international estimates, India could have 20 - 25 million HIV cases by 2010. UN studies predict that over 12 million people in India could die in the country between 2000-15 from Aids.

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