1. to provide a surveillance system for newly emerging strains of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Europe
2. to provide a surveillance system for emerging strains of HIV with naturally occurring mutations conferring anti-viral drug resistance in Europe
3. to provide reagents for vaccine and anti-retroviral drug design and evaluation.
EASP is an ongoing Concerted Action. In the past four years, laboratories from 6 European countries collaborated in the development, evaluation and validation of new methodologies for characterizing HIV strains, using a matched set of sera/plasma and PBMC from HIV infected individuals from 9 European countries. Based on this work, an algorithm for the characterisation of HIV has been developed. This algorithm starts with the screening for HIV subtypes by testing sera/plasma for antibodies reactive to HIV-1 subtype specific V3 peptides, followed by genomic RNA analysis of the gp120 coding region amplified from serum by using Heteroduplex Mobility Analysis (HMA) and the RNase A Mismatch Method (RAMM) in those cases where serological typing gives indeterminate results. As confirmation strategy sequencing of (parts of) gp120 is chosen. In addition the RT gene is amplified from genomic RNA in serum and a differential PCR method, as well as RAMM is used to identify mutations in the RT gene conferring anti-retroviral drug resistance. Matching viruses are obtained and used for homologous and heterologous neutralisation.
Laboratories from France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands will collaborate within the framework of EASP in order to characterise HIV circulating in Europe, using serum/plasma and matching PBMC samples which are collected from individuals seroconverted within an annual time period. These samples and reagents (env and RT cDNA, as well as virus stocks) produced from these samples will be stored in the EASP repository in Amsterdam and subsequently used in the various typing assays. Exchange of personnel (PhD students, postdocs and technicians) in order to transfer technology remains part of EASP. New initiative within EASP will be the development of a data network between the laboratories, important for the exchange of data and results of typing analysis.
The surveillance provided by EASP integrates basic and clinical research and provides information and reagents pivotal to develop effective vaccines and to monitor the efficacy of antiretroviral therapies, as is mentioned as major requirements to comply with area 4.2 of BIOMED 2.