Researchers at Philadelphia’s Temple University have made a thrilling breakthrough on the path to cure HIV/AIDS. In a recent experiment, they managed to remove HIV-1 DNA out of the human genome. And when they reintroduced HIV to the edited genomes, the cells were no longer infected with the virus.
It’s a huge leap towards the goal of curing the disease that has killed over 25 million people since the 1980’s. Treatment has come a long way in the last few years, yet the scientists said antiretroviral drugs, which can regulate the disease, are not a permanent solution. As soon as a person stops receiving the treatment, their cells are once again open to the infection, and the virus usually progresses into AIDS. At this point, doctors are able to keep the virus at bay, but not cure it.
The Temple University scientists may have brought us one step closer to a cure. They employed CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology, first developed in 2012, to cut HIV-1 out of the genome, after which the human DNA healed itself.
While gene editing has been successful before, the true innovation in the new study is that edited cells are not reinfected when exposed to HIV. Further, when HIV-1 is edited out, the quantity of HIV in a person’s blood actually decreases. After the successful experiments, the Temple team needed to determine if the edited cells would perform normally or if they would mutate. They discovered that the cells grew and behaved as they should, so the editing process is not toxic for the human body.
Senior researcher Dr. Kamel Khalili said, “The findings are important on multiple levels…the questions they address are critical, and the results allow us to move ahead with this technology.”
The results have huge implications for our treatment of HIV/AIDS, and the team intends to keep researching this potential cure.