Gene Editing To Be Used In Eliminating HIV

First Posted: May 04, 2017 06:20 AM EDT

Researchers may be one step closer to curing HIV. A team from Temple University is currently developing a gene editing technique to remove HIV infection in mice.

Called CRISPR -- the gene-editing tool used -- enables scientists cut out and insert specific portions of DNA, which the researchers then used to excise HIV from the mice. According to CBS News, this was the first time that the CRISPR was used to shut down HIV replication. It was also the first time that the virus was eliminated from animal cells.

To understand CRISPR, it is somewhat similar to microscopic scissors that snip unwanted pieces of DNA, then replace them with a new piece. The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Therapy, showed three animal models, including a "humanized" model where human immune cells that were infected with HIV were transplanted in lab mice.

Kamel Kahlili, director of Temple's center for neurovirology, said that he never thought the CRISPR system could work with such efficiency and precision when they started the research.

GEN noted that this is the first study to demonstrate that HIV-1 replication can be shut down. It also reported that the virus can also be eliminated from infected cells in animals. Co-author Wenhui Hu, an associate professor in the Center for Metabolic Disease Research at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, said that this study is more comprehensive than what was researched before. The latest study showed that the team was able to genetically inactivate HIV-1 in transgenic mice. It effectively reduced the RNA expression of the genes by 60 percent to 95 percent.

The work is a sign of progress in the medical community. However, there could be years of work that scientists have to do before they could find a reliable cure for HIV. Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, over 70 million people have been infected by the virus and over 35 million died.

The stakes to cure HIV is high, and the Temple team is only one of the many that are trying to find a cure for the dangerous virus. Today, there are drug treatments that can reduce the virus to nearly undetectable levels, but there is a possibility that HIV can come back once treatment stops. "The basic science community in HIV research is now very focused on finding a cure," said Paul Voldberding, head of the institute.

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