Scientists claim to have successfully eliminated HIV from a group of animals using cutting-edge medical technology.
The virus’ ability to hide in latent reservoirs in cells has made it impossible to defeat, but in new research published this week in the journal Molecular Therapy, the US scientists demonstrated that they can completely remove HIV DNA from infected human cells implanted in mice using a gene-editing technique.
The research team – led by Dr Wenhui Hu at Lewis Katz School Of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia – tested three groups of mice: the first infected with HIV-1; the second with EcoHIV, the mouse equivalent of human HIV-1; and the third implanted with human cells infected with HIV-1.
Using the CRISPR-Cas9 method, short for “Clustered Regularly Inter-Spaced Palindromic Repeats”, the scientists made precise edits – or “cuts” – in DNA, targeting specific regions including HIV DNA and extracting them.
In the first group of mice, they successfully managed to genetically deactivate HIV-1, with the scientists claiming it caused a reduction of the RNA expression of viral genes by up to 95%, which was in line with their earlier research.
The second batch – infected with the mouse equivalent of HIV – were more prone to the virus multiplying and spreading quickly, the scientists said, and their stategy eliminated 96% of EcoHIV from the mice.
“During acute infection, HIV actively replicates,” researcher Dr Kamel Khalili said.
“With EcoHIV mice, we were able to investigate the ability of the CRISPR/Cas9 strategy to block viral replication and potentially prevent systemic infection.”
When it came to the third group of mice, which had HIV-1-infected human immune cells planted in them, the challenge was to find the T cells where HIV hides but after a single treatment of CRISPR-Cas9, the scientists said they successfully managed to remove viral fragments from the infected human cells planted in the mice.
The scientists say the new study is a major step forward in the pursuit of a permanent cure for HIV infection.
“The next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, a more suitable animal model where HIV infection induces disease, in order to further demonstrate elimination of HIV-1 DNA in latently infected T cells and other sanctuary sites for HIV-1, including brain cells,” Dr Khalili explained.
“Our eventual goal is a clinical trial in human patients.”
(Photo by NIAID via Flickr)