Here’s some good news. The final onslaught in the war against the HIV may come with shortening the Window Period or the latent– deceptive period of the disease- when even +ve appears -ve.
Stimulating Maximal Antibody Response Tube – SMARTube — a simple, yet revolutionary breakthrough in medical technology in the process of being imported for the first time in India may prove to be the ultimate weapon for early warning and detection of HIV & HCV infections in human beings, months before any other known test or diagnostic method.
According to Dr N K Gupta-an internationally reputed NRI doctor, vascular biologist, motivational speaker and President, Society for Medicare – an India based Ngo in the field of medical education, awareness and capacity building to save human lives, Smartube will not only revolutionise the detection of HIV and HCV in India but also help in saving millions of lives.
“It may just be the Smart Solution or Smart Weapon India needs to fight off the smart invaders — the lethal HIV & HCV virus who are masters in the art of camouflage, deception and hidden combat after silently crippling the defenders – inside the human body”, says Dr Gupta.
Truly with close to anywhere between 2.4 – 5.7 million HIV+ve people & 165,000 reported AIDS cases — 4,000,000 Men, 1,600,000 Women & 1,20,000 children — already living with HIV, in addition to Hepatitis C virus (HCV) which accounts for one-fourth of all cases of chronic liver disease causing 1.5 -2 million deaths in Indian Homes– INDIA cannot be left at the mercy of HIV/AIDS – HCV.
The dangers due to this are fairly apparent as some 550,000 HIV patients have already developed AIDS and another 300,000 a year will develop AIDS over the next 15-20 years. Also as per World Bank estimates India already has 2 million children – the largest number AIDS orphans in the world-who are expected to double in next five years.
The smartest part of the story is that SMARTube not only ensures earlier, better and complete detection of HIV/HCV just a week after exposure but also enables the detection of those patients who were who were infected, but otherwise might would have gone undetected at that testing time. In doing so SMARTube promises to be a cost effective method that increases the SENSITIVITY and SPECIFICITY of other known HIV & HCV detection tests-with very little additional training or cost input.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) more than 25% of HIV+ve people in USA are unaware of their HIV status. Healthy in appearance and feeling fine– they do not receive proper care and unknowingly pass the HIV virus to others. The trend worldwide, including India is that many people are blissfully unaware of their HIV- HCV + ve status and continue infect others while leading normal lives simply because-
o They do not have any visible or apparent symptoms of HIV/AIDS – HCV
o They never felt the need to get tested
o It is not a fashionable for people to get HIV – HCV tests done, even once a lifetime
o Stigma attached with going for a HIV test (what will people say!), unless unavoidable
Even otherwise, less than 1 % population of India get themseleves tested for HIV-HCV even once in the lifetime and worst still upto 27 % HIV infected people remain undiagnosed.
As things stand today, if a person tests negative for HIV or HCV – it doesn’t mean that he/she is not infected. On the contrary he/she might be in the most contagious stage of the infection. Such a person could well infect as many as 50 -100 others before actually testing positive – months later. This is due to the “Window Period”.
To understand how this window period affects us… we have to first understand how our body responds to infections and virus attacks … Take for instance the Human body is made up of about a 100 million cells. Just one teaspoon of blood contains about 25 billion red blood cells. The immune system is the body’s main line defender against infection and illness. It recognizes the body’s cells and tries to get rid of anything unfamiliar. It destroys parasites and germs – bacteria and viruses but can sometimes cause problems by attacking unmatched blood or organs donated by another person.
In case of most infections, the immune system sees the foreign invaders and starts producing antibodies against them. Usually it takes 5-7 days for the antibodies to develop after the infection. Antibodies help out in detecting any infection in the blood, before the liver or lungs are affected.
A vast army of defender cells comprising of 1000 million different types of white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow every day. Some of these cells, called macrophages, constantly patrol the body, destroying germs as soon as they enter. This is the ‘natural’ or inborn immunity. But if an infection begins to take hold, the body fights back with even more powerful T- and B-cells which give us acquired immunity, so that the germ can not make us ill again.
However, with HIV and HCV, the most devastating and chronic infection–it could take weeks or up to many months to see any antibodies in the blood. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which attacks the immune system, disarming the body’s defenses against infections and cancers. As a result even germs that cause minor illnesses in healthy people can make people with AIDS very ill.
AIDS is a medical condition. People develop AIDS because HIV has damaged their natural defenses against disease. HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that infects the cells that make up the human body and replicates i.e. makes new copies of itself within those cells. HIV can be passed from one person to another through contact with the body fluids of an HIV infected or HIV+ person. The only reliable way to tell whether someone has HIV is through blood tests, which can detect the infection — a few weeks after the virus first entered the body.
Like all viruses, HIV cannot grow or reproduce on its own. In order to make new copies of itself it must infect the cells of a living organism. With time HIV+ve persons may become ill more and more often. Several years after the infection, the number of immune system cells left in the body drops below a particular point. At this point a person may be said to have progressed from HIV to AIDS. Generally when someone has one or more of these infections and a low number of T cells, he or she is said to be suffering from AIDS. Different countries have different parameters for defining the stage at which a HIV+ve person is said to have AIDS.
Different viruses attack different parts of the body – some attack the skin, others the lungs…even common cold is caused by a virus. What makes HIV –dangerous is that it attacks the immune system particularly a special type of immune system cell known as a CD4 lymphocyte- that normally gets rid of the viruses. HIV is a smart virus that tricks and evades the body’s defenses. Once the HIV virus takes hold, the immune system can never fully get rid of it.
Most of the HIV -HCV detction tests available today like the Elisa including rapid tests and home test kits- depend on detecting the volume of antibodies in the blood instead of the virus itself. However in case of both HIV and HCV it can take weeks or months after infection before antibodies against are produced and detected. This infected yet serum-negative period is called the “window period”. This is a period when even HIV – HCV infected people will be considered non-infected simply because they have not yet produced or developed detectable levels of antibodies in their blood.
As long as there are no antibodies, these patients are diagnosed as non-infected. This is called the window period – the time between infection and the detection of antibodies– that’s where Smartube comes in.
The window period of HIV and HCV infection is a major concern for the governments, health authorities and professionals, blood banks, vaccine and drug developers all over the world, as many infected individuals test negative for HIV or HCV antibodies, and are thus misdiagnosed. Shortening the window period actually holds the key to saving millions of lives, billions of dollars, untold human resources, suffering, and deaths.
A simple process, called Stimmunology, for stimulating the antibody production in-vitro in the blood sample, prior to testing it for HIV (and/or HCV) antibodies, has been developed, to solve the window period. This has been implemented in the SMARTube HIV & HCV, which enables the detection of HIV and HCV infections (during the window period) by overcoming, in vitro, the specific immune suppression exerted by the virus, and which is the cause for the window period.
This process involves placing 1ml of blood sample inside the SMARTube for a 3-5 day incubation period, leading to the formation of HIV and/or HCV antibodies in detectable levels in all those infected, including those in the window period.