Why we’re one stop closer to totally preventing HIV

Harriet Marsden@harriet1marsden
Tuesday 09 May 2017 09:15
Picture:(istock / cosmin4000 )

During the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s, a diagnosis of HIV was effectively a death sentence.

And in many parts of the world, particularly underdeveloped nations, this is still the case.

However, there have been staggering advancements in developing drugs and treatments for HIV-positive people..

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can be used to keep HIV under control, even to the point where AIDS never develops and the presence of HIV undetectable for many people.

Nevertheless, this still isn't a cure, as the virus can always return if the antiretrovirals are stopped. They are also prohibitively expensive for many countries.

However, there is some good news on the horizon, scientists have been exploring a technique known as 'gene editing' for the treatment of HIV and other devastating diseases, such as cancer.

The concept involves editing a gene back into a patient, if the lack of that gene is what's making them susceptible to a disease, or alternatively editing out a gene that causes disease.

The use of a CRISPR system has been approved for medical trials - and researchers say they've used the technique to remove HIV DNA.

Researchers at Temple University, Philadelphia and the University of Pittsburgh were able to use the technique to eliminate HIV DNA from the genetic code of a mouse, effectively curing the animal of HIV.

The study, which has just been published in the Molecular Therapy journal, is the first to use the CRISPR gene-editing technology to try and shut down the HIV virus.

Last year, the researchers successfully eliminated the HIV DNA from live mice, but this round was considered more thorough.

The three different types of mice used in the experiment were:

  • Mice infected with latent HIV 
  • Mice with actively replicating HIV in their system
  • Mice with human immune cells, including T cells with latent HIV, grafted into them

The study can offer hope for a cure in the long term, but the technique must first be tested on primates before human subjects.

Temple researcher and neurovirologist Kamel Khalili, who has been focusing on gene-editing for years, said:

The current anti-retroviral therapy for HIV is very successful in suppressing replication of the virus.

But that does not eliminate the copies of the virus that have been integrated into the gene, so any time the patient doesn't take their medication the virus can rebound.

[...] Our eventual goal is a clinical trial in human patients.

HT: Cnet

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