HIV or Human immunodeficiency virus is a disease that weakens the immune’s system’s ability to fight disease, and eventually leads to aids. Anti-HIV medication or anti-retro viral drugs (ARVs) have been essential towards suppressing the effects of the virus, and for the most part does a decent a job as it can keep HIV at levels that cannot be detected in blood. However HIV has started to mutate to combat these medications, and are able to hide in tissues throughout the body waiting for the immune system to falter. The ideal solution for HIV is for removal rather than constant repression. That solution hasn’t seemed possible until now.
A study published by Nature Communications on July 2 demonstrated a possible way to remove HIV from an animal’s genome. The study had 29 infected mice undergo a combination of strong ARVs and a gene-editing technique to fully remove the HIV gene from the animal’s genome. After multiple tests researchers found that 30% of the mice possessed no trace of HIV. This study is revolutionary as it is the first time HIV is viewed as a curable disease.
The specific steps that the researchers took consisted of first replicating the virus using a process called LASER ART. By using LASER ART conventional HIV drugs are modified so that are encased in fat soluble particles. This allows the drug to enter the membranes of cells that could possibly house HIV. After ARVs enter the cell, the cell enzymes begin to release the drug. Since the ARVs possess a crystalline structure, they are released slower allowing them to engage and eliminate dormant viruses for months.
Next researchers used a gene editing tool to cut out the HIV gene from any infected cells. These were the cells that the ARVs missed. With each treatment alone HIV was seen to rebound in a five to eight week span. However, with both treatments implemented HIV was successfully eliminated from the animals within the trial.
Kamel Khalili one of the study’s lead authors and director of the center for neurovirology at Temple university says “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. 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 combination of ARVs and gene editing is currently being tested in non-human primates which Khalili hopes will yield the same results. If the tests are successful testing for humans could begin.