A team of researchers at the Temple University School of Medicine led by Dr. Kamel Khalili and Dr. Wenhui Hu, have successfully designed a way to “snip” HIV-1 genes from human cells, leaving the cells completely HIV free!
From the Temple University School of Medicine:
In a study published July 21 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Khalili and colleagues detail how they created molecular tools to delete the HIV-1 proviral DNA. 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 excise the HIV-1 DNA. 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," said Dr. Khalili, whose research focuses on the neuropathogenesis of viral infections. The same technique could theoretically be used against a variety of viruses, he said.
The research shows that these molecular tools also hold promise as a therapeutic vaccine; cells armed with the nuclease-RNA combination proved impervious to HIV infection.
Dr. Khalili went on to explain the challenges that remain:
The HIV-1 eradication approach faces several significant challenges before the technique is ready for patients, Dr. Khalili said. 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.
"We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies," Dr. Khalili said. "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."
Hopefully Dr. Khalili and Dr. Hu will have the appropriate resources to continue making the breakthroughs that can lead to a cure for HIV and AIDS!