For the very first time, researchers in Philadelphia have found a way to completely delete the HIV virus from human cells by ‘snipping’ them out. The process could also provide a cure for other latent infections!
This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS. It’s an exciting discovery, but it’s not yet ready to go into the clinic. It’s a proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Kamel Khalili, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple.
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
Researchers based the two-part HIV-1 editor on a system that evolved as a bacterial defense mechanism to protect against infection.
When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA. Dr Khalili’s lab engineered a 20-nucleotide strand of gRNA to target the HIV-1 DNA and paired it with a DNA-sniping enzyme called Cas9 and used to edit the human genome.
From there, the cell’s gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells. Since HIV-1 is never cleared by the immune system, removal of the virus is required in order to cure the disease,’ explained Dr Khalili. These molecular tools also hold promise as a therapeutic vaccine; cells armed with the nuclease-RNA combination proved impervious to HIV infection.
Worldwide, more than 33 million people have HIV, including more than 1 million in the United States. ‘We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it,” said Kamel Khalili, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple.
According to Dr. Khalili, the HIV-1 eradication approach faces several significant challenges before the technique is ready for patients. Hence, the researchers must devise a method to deliver the therapeutic agent to every single infected cell. Finally, because HIV-1 is prone to mutations, treatment may need to be individualized for each patient’s unique viral sequences.
credits to dailymail