A HIV-infected T cell | Photo: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons
Researchers have revealed they have been able to eliminate HIV from a living animal.
Scientists say this the ‘first step showing…HIV is a curable disease’.
However, HIV rights advocates have also encouraged caution. A ‘cure’, according to experts, is still a long way off.
Scientists eliminated HIV in 30% of the living animals
A study, which used the controversial practice of using mice, aimed to eliminate HIV from an infected genome.
Infecting 29 mice, the team used a combination of modified anti-retroviral drugs to keep the virus at low activity levels.
Researchers then used a gene-editing technique that snipped out HIV genes from infected cells.
It was a success, and scientists could find no trace of HIV in 30% of the animals.
Kamel Khalili, study lead author, said: ‘This observation is the first step toward showing for the first time, to my knowledge, that HIV is a curable disease’.
He is the director of the center of neurovirology and the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
What’s the science?
Researchers actively replicated the virus in the blood. The anti-retroviral drugs were modified with a process called LASER ART.
The process tweaked the drugs to slip through the membranes of cells in places where HIV hides.
Once incide, the cells’ enzymes release the drug. Using a crystal structure, the drugs are released more slowly which allows them to kill off dormant viruses as they start to emerge and replicate.
A second step involved a gene-editing tool to splice out HIV from any circulating cells that are infected with viral genes, the ones the anti-HIV drugs missed.
Some mice were treated with the first technique, and others with the second. In both, levels of HIV rebounded within five to eight weeks.
Together, the HIV was able to effectively eliminate HIV from some of the animals.
Using a genetic strategy
‘Over the years, we have looked at HIV as an infectious disease. But once it gets into the cell, it’s no longer an infectious disease but becomes a genetic disease because the viral genome is incorporated into the host genome,’ says Khalili.
‘In order to cure the disease, we need a genetic strategy. Gene editing gives us the opportunity to eliminate viral DNA from host chromosomes without hurting the host genome.’
The team will now also move on to test the therapy in non-human primates. And following this, it will also open the door for human testing.
NAM executive director Matthew Hodson asks people to read this study with caution.
He told Gay Star News: ‘Although treatment is now effective at preventing AIDS, and preventing transmission, people living with HIV overwhelmingly would like to be cured.
‘Some studies suggest that would be willing to take on considerable risk for the possibility of being permanently free of the virus.
‘HIV is a very tricky virus, which is why the search for a cure has proved so difficult. As our experience with anti-retroviral therapy has shown, a combination approach is more likely to yield positive results.
He also said: ”This research and the results are promising. I would caution that an effective and available cure as a result of this approach, if it comes, is likely to be a long way off.
‘Although some of the mice in this study appeared to be cured, giving us proof of concept, the treatment did not work for two-thirds of the mice.’