Scientists Explain HIV-DNA Matching Technique Used to Convict Man of Attempted Murder
The scientists who conducted the HIV DNA comparison that was the basis of a court case that convicted a Louisiana doctor of intentionally infecting his ex-lover with HIV explain the details of their genetic analysis in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, Reuters Health reports (McCook, Reuters Health, 10/7). Dr. Richard Schmidt was convicted of purposely injecting Janice Allen, a former lover, with blood tainted with HIV and hepatitis C after she called off their affair. The blood was believed to have been drawn from an HIV- and HCV-positive patient around the time of the breakup. Allen tested positive for HIV and hepatitis C five months after the alleged incident and pressed charges against Schmidt for attempted murder. Schmidt appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis that the DNA evidence linking Allen's infection with the patient's was unreliable, but the court declined to hear the case without comment (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/5). In the article, Dr. Michael Metzker of Baylor College of Medicine and colleagues explain how they determined that the two viruses were from the same strain using phylogenetic analysis, a study of a virus's "mutation rate." "In this case, even the direction of transmission is clear," Dr. David Hillis of the University of Texas-Austin said, adding, "In other words, not only can we tell that the two individuals are connected in their infection history, but it is clear that the patient contracted the virus first, and then the virus was passed on to [Allen]." Although using DNA evidence in court cases is "not new," Reuters Health reports that linking one HIV infection to another is "more tricky" because the virus "mutates so rapidly that researchers needed to track the evolutionary changes in the DNA to link the woman's virus to the source." Hillis added that the technique could assist scientists in anticipating a virus' mutations and thus allow them to be "one step ahead of the virus" in vaccine development, Reuters Health reports (Reuters Health, 10/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.