The HI virus attacks and kills immune cells, leaving patients highly vulnerable to other infections. But scientists in the US have shown that it is possible to use gene editing technology to literally cut away the virus from the DNA of cells.
“This is a technology that enables you to change genes. You can engineer the body to cure itself.”
Researchers at Lewis Katz School of Medicine, at Temple University in Philadelphia in the US, are confident that they will be able to start human trials within three years .
Experts said the treatment would “engineer the body to cure itself from the inside”.
Crucially, the HIV gene editing did not affect any other part of the genetic code. There have been fears that altering DNA could trigger a cascade of genetic breaks which would prove harmful or even lethal.
“The fact that, for the first time, we have been able to completely eliminate segments of the viral genome in the laboratory demonstrates that we should be able to eliminate it in the human body,” said lead researcher Kamel Khalili.
“The findings are important in that they demonstrate the effectiveness of our gene-editing system in eliminating HIV from the DNA of immune cells and permanently inactivating its replication. The system can protect cells from reinfection and the technology [ has] no toxic effects. Replacing only 20% of immune cells with the genetically altered cells would probably cure HIV.”
Kamel Khalili, who led the research, said that the findings are important on multiple levels as they demonstrate the effectiveness of the gene editing system in eliminating HIV from the DNA of CD4 T-cells and by introducing mutations in the viral genome, permanently inactivating its replication. Khalili added that the study shows that the system can protect cells from reinfection and that the technology is safe for the cells, with no toxic effects. He noted that these experiments had not been performed previously to this extent, but the questions they address are critical and the results allow them to move ahead with this technology.
While the experiments have so far only been carried out in human cells in the lab, clinical trials on humans could begin within three years, The Telegraph reported.
The study is published online in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports.
Source : Online news