In commemorating the National Biotechnology Week, the Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) has revealed two technologies that may help the country fight the spread of HIV through biotechnology.
One is the use of disease modeling to better understand the dynamics of the disease work so personalized treatments for patients can be developed, and the other is the development of paper-based diagnostic kit for HIV.
“The DOST regards biotechnology as an important field and an instrument in developing solutions to our most pressing needs especially in healthcare,” DOST Secretary Renato Solidum said in a recorded message.
“In fact, we have supported numerous innovations and have applied the concepts of biotechnology in the process of scientific research as well as the means of developing our technologies,” Solidum added.
Citing figures from the Department of Health, there are “about 42 Filipinos being diagnosed with HIV infection every day for this year”.
Modes of transmission of HIV include sharing of infected needles among people who inject drugs, male to male sex or males who have sex with both males and females, male to female sex, and pregnant mothers who unwittingly share the virus to their babies.
Majority of HIV cases are those aged 24- 35 years old but the patients are now getting younger.
“It is significant to note that more than 30% of cases are being reported among adolescents and young adults. Furthermore the Department of Health estimates that two in every three new HIV infections is occurring among 15 to 24 years old,” said RITM HIV Research Program Lead Dr. Rossana Ditangco.
Limited access to condoms and treatment are among the factors that contribute to the spread of HIV, she said.
Global targets indicate that by 2030, “95% of people infected with HIV would know their HIV status, 95% of those with HIV infection would have started on treatment, and that 95% of those who are on treatment will be virally suppressed”. And yet the Philippines is “still far” from the 95-95-95 target, she said.
Through disease modeling, scientists from the Philippine Program for Diagnostics Biomarkers, Disease Modeling and Nutriceutical Product Development or PhilDIAMOND say they are trying to understand the dynamics of the disease in patients.
“What we do is we take the patient with HIV and then we try to derive tissues from them, we construct the disease model, we try to better understand how these biomarkers of interest complicate the cellular mechanisms that lead to the disease or ailments,” Dr. Ahmad Reza Mazahery, University of the Philippines Diliman Assistant Professor said.
This can then enable them to “construct better therapeutic strategies” for these patients.
“What if we can actually bank not just the cells but the actual unique gene type of patients and … it allows us now to develop personalized therapeutic strategies because let's face it, we all have different genetics, there are some forms of treatments that you know differ from patient to patient. That's why .. we're really trying to promote personalized medicine here,” Mazahery said.
This can address some issues that patients face during their treatment, including the side effects of treatments.
“We have to consider that many diagnosed HIV positive subjects skip treatment or they stop treatment because the side effects becomes unbearable,” Mazahery said.
The other technology is the Paper- based Diagnostic Kit for HIV drug resistance mutations being developed by the University of the Philippines- Manila.
One of the objectives of this technology is to “detect HIV mutations known to cause resistance to antiretroviral drugs”.
The project is currently on its validation stage.
The researches are still not commercially available as there are still processes that needed to be fulfilled but the DOST assured the scientists that they will be supported.
“Rest assured that the council is here to support you in your research dissemination and technology commercialization journey as we gather today to know the latest updates about this projects,” said DOST- PCHRD Executive Director Dr. Jaime Montoya.