Health Care

In a first, scientists eliminate HIV from an animal's genome

In a first, scientists eliminate HIV from an animal's genome”

Researchers say when the HIV cure is complete, patients would replace taking pills for the rest of their lives with two separate injections.

The use of CRISPR in HIV stirred up much controversy after Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed to have used the technology to edit human embryos, resulting in the birth of babies with a mutated form of the CCR5 gene that rendered them resistant to HIV. Its effectiveness in protecting humans from the virus is still unknown.

The problematic thing about HIV is it is smart enough to hide from our body's immune system and even more from drugs that we send to attack it.

Testing their methods on a group of infected "humanized mice", or rodents engineered to produce human T cells susceptible to HIV, researchers administered a treatment called LASER ART, or long-acting, slow-effective release ART, to suppress HIV cells from replicating.

Editor's Note: Within hours of Tuesday's announcement, news of the breakthrough study appeared in media outlets around the world, including CNN, CNBC, Time, London's Daily Mail and New Scientist magazine. However, LASER ART takes this a lot further.

HIV integrates its genetic material into the genomes of the host's cells, which now available ART can't target. The nanocrystals are stored within cells for weeks and slowly release the drugs. The drug alone is long-lasting, and infected patients only need to take it at least once a year.

"Our study shows that treatment to suppress HIV replication and gene editing therapy, when given sequentially, can eliminate HIV from cells and organs of infected animals", said Kamel Khalili, director of the center for neurovirology and the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University's Lewis Katz School of Medicine, who is one of the study's lead authors.

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"We had to be highly efficient and getting a third of these animals cured is fantastic considering what we were up against". But gene editing can't eliminate HIV on its own.

His team used a technique called CRISPR-Cas9 that can snip faulty DNA with a harmless virus. Gendelman and Edagwa are named inventors on patents that cover the LASER ART technology. It is harmless with tremendous benefits - an ideal method to curing HIV. Once infection was established, mice were treated with LASER ART and subsequently with CRISPR-Cas9. At the end of their treatment, about one-third of infected mice had seen HIV eliminated from their DNA, specifically 2 of 7 cured in the first experiment, 3 of 6 in the second, and 6 of 10 in the third.

"You're probably looking at seven to 10 years from where we're at now with this discovery the 'reporting discovery stage, ' " said Dr. Michael Dixon of the UNeMed Corp.

As of now, there is no known cure for HIV or AIDS. If it is stopped, HIV rebounds, renewing replication and fuelling the development of AIDS.

Excision BioTherapeutics, a biotech focused on using CRISPR to treat viral infections, has licensed the gene-editing technology from Temple University, with a plan to advance the platform into human clinical trials.

"Those early cases were patients of mine", Gendelman said. "It shows it's possible that HIV could be cured".

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