Scientists have met with success in their removal of HIV-1 genes from living tissues which had never been possible before. The experiment was conducted on mice and rats. And hence, HIV experiments on animals are extremely positive.
Researchers hailing from Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University are responsible for the revolutionary study. The rodents they used as test subjects carried the virus in every cell of their body.
It is the first instance where scientists have actually managed to remove an HIV virus without any negative effects to the cells being treated.
So How Did They Do It?
The method involved is known as CRISPR/Cas9 or in simpler words ‘molecular scissors’. It’s an attempt to sever the virus out of their genes.
The procedure was initiated by the injection of rAAV CRISPR/Cas-9 molecules. Two weeks later, the scientists found major segments of the HIV-1 virus to have been eradicated.
In the words of Professor Kamel Khalili (who led the research team), “ The ability of the rAAV delivery system to enter many organs containing the HIV-1 genome and edit the viral DNA is an important indication that this strategy can also overcome viral reactivation from latently infected cells and potentially serve as a curative approach for patients with HIV.”
Simply put, the molecules enter the infected organs and ‘edit’ the viral DNA. Such a technique could, in the future, be used on human patients harboring HIV.
The Glaring Hurdle in the Way of Human Transition:
According to statements from other researchers, the anatomic structure of a human and a mice is very distinct. Also, the study was only conducted on integrated virus while the treatment of a live virus is much more complicated.
Attacking a live virus can cause it to become resistant while an integrated virus does not possess the ability to react. Though there are other ongoing researches attempting a cure.
‘Gene therapy’ aims to develop an immune system completely resistant to HIV. It involves the injection of genes into a body instead of drugs.
Also, a group of Danish scientists have been conducting clinical trials to snip out the HIV from humans or obliterate it completely but have found no success thus far.
Why are we in such a desperate need of a cure?
The existing treatment of HIV requires the intake of a variety of antiretroviral drugs. This can undoubtedly suppress the HIV replication but not ‘annihilate’ the HIV-1 virus.
There have been cases where the sudden interruption of the therapy has caused the patients to be diagnosed with more severe forms of AIDS. The ability to ‘delete’ is what distinguishes the method of Professor Khalili’s team from all other treatments.
How badly does it affect India?
India has the third highest number of HIV-infected people in the world according to a study by the UN in 2013.
Also, a study by the National AIDS control organization (NACO) in 2011 states that there are approximately 2.08 million people with HIV in India.
When can we expect a human cure?
The next step in the study of the research team is to experiment on a larger group of animals. The effects of their treatment will be closely monitored.
Nonetheless, Professor Khalili spoke encouragingly on the expectations. The research team hopes to find a cure for human patients as soon as possible.
They’ve even suggested that a clinical trial could be carried out within the next two years.
Though we’re not quite there yet, the breakthrough has definitely brought us closer than ever.
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