Nyambi talks about HIV strand diversity in Cameroon

Sponsored by the biology and chemistry departments as well as the Howard Hughes Foundation grant, Dr. Philippe Nyambi lectured about his research on HIV in Africa on Wednesday April 5. Entitled “HIV-1 in Cameroon, A Diversity Paradigm: High genetic diversity vs. Low prevalence,” Nyambi spoke about his research within central Africa, specifically the country of Cameroon and the diverse strands of HIV-1 present within the country.

Situated in Central Africa, next to Nigeria, Congo and Gabon, Cameroon is a small country with a population of 12 million. Although only six percent of the adult population has been infected with HIV, there are over nine subtypes present within the small country.

In comparison, approximately 26 percent of the adult population, including 86 percent of prostitutes and 60 percent of pregnant women, has contracted the virus within Zimbabwe. In Cameroon, more than 10 percent of those infected with the virus have been infected by multiple strands of the virus.

Although it is frequently referred to as only the Human Imunodeficiency Virus (HIV) within the media, there are two different types of HIV – HIV-1 and HIV-2 – which differ in genetic makeup by 75 percent. Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 have several subtypes and different strands even within each subtype. Nyambi’s research has specialized in the diversity of HIV-1 strands, specifically within the subtype of group M and group O. Nyambi also spoke about the similarity between HIV-1 and SIV, the chimpanzee version of the virus.

Many students enjoyed the lecture on strand diversity by Nyambi. “I expected a little bit more of the explanation for the spread of HIV, but it was very good,” said Lennie Trocard ’01. Nyambi admits that more research needs to be done in order to figure out the dilemma. “Why the high genetic diversity? Why the prevalence is low? We don’t understand,” said Nyambi.

As of December 1998, 33.4 million people had been infected with HIV worldwide. Sixty-five percent of those individuals, or 22.5 million people, reside in sub-Sahara Africa. The current hot spots for HIV spread are within developing countries. The number of deaths caused by HIV and AIDS worldwide has now surpassed 14 million.

Nyambi is an assistant research professor at the Research Center for AIDS and HIV Infection at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Manhattan. Nyambis has significant funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for his research on the diversity of HIV-1. In order to further his research, Dr. Nyambi will be returning to his native country of Cameroon in order to study the rare diversity of HIV strands coupled with its low prevalence within the country.