HIV is notoriously difficult to treat. Latent HIV reservoirs aren’t affected by anti-retroviral treatments and can wake up at any time and reproduce.
A recent study from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh has made headway in the difficult path of excising latent HIV. This research builds upon an earlier proof-of-concept study examining the use of gene-editing tool CRISPR to eliminate HIV hiding in latent reservoirs.
CRISPR/Cas9 is the most precise gene-editing tool in modern biotechnology. The system is made up of a DNA-cutting enzyme and a guide RNA. This identifies the genetic sequence to remove.
Snipping Out the Virus to Eliminate HIV
The new HIV study examined the disease in three groups of mice. A first group was infected with HIV-1. Another, second one with an acute infection of the mouse equivalent of human HIV-1, EcoHIV. The final group of mice was “humanized” by transplanting infected human immune cells.
In the first group, the scientists genetically inactivated HIV-1, leading to a 60–95% reduction in RNA expression and confirming earlier findings. The second group had an added challenge with the actively replicating acute infection. However, they managed to use CRISPR to block viral replication, potentially avoiding systemic infection. This excision’s efficiency was 96%.
The mice that engrafted with human immune cells full of latent HIV received a single genetic treatment. Incredibly, this one treatment was able to eliminate the HIV fragments in the human cells embedded within the mice.
This study strengthens and builds upon past research that may culminate in a new treatment for HIV patients. Co-senior study investigator Kamel Khalili is looking forward to more research. He is a professor and chair of the department of neuroscience at LKSOM
“The next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, […] to further demonstrate the elimination of HIV-1 DNA in latently infected T cells and other sanctuary sites for HIV-1, including brain cells,” Dr. Khalili explained in the press release.
Dr. Khalili also stated that his team’s eventual goal would be to study the efficiency of this method in a human trial. As it is, the researchers will continue looking for the best way to eliminate HIV.
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