Scientists eliminate HIV in the entire genome of lab mice for the first time

Scientists say they’re one step closer to finding a potential cure for HIV after successfully eliminating the virus in living mice.

Scientists

Scientists at Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center discovered that by using a combination of CRISPR gene-editing technology and a therapeutic treatment called LASER ART, they succeeded in erasing HIV DNA from the genomes of animals in what they call an unprecedented study. Their findings were published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

“We think this study is a major breakthrough because it for the first time demonstrates after 40 years of the AIDS epidemic that the HIV disease is a curable disease,” said study co-author, Dr Kamel Khalili, chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Director of the Center for Neurovirology and the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University.

With their findings, scientists demonstrated the genetic editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 is theoretically capable of finding those buried virus genes and destroying them in mice which were engineered to have a similar to human biochemistry.

So far, only two people have been reported to being cured of HIV, both had terminal blood cancer and underwent a risky bone marrow transplant that obliterated both diseases. But the transplant technique has not worked in anyone else, proving fatal in some and it effectively requires that the patient have both HIV and cancer.

“There was a lot of frustration, self-introspection, denials, reaffirmation, and just laborious day-by-day activities to prove it, HIV is so hard to obliterate because it is a virus that infects the genome. It buries itself inside hidden reservoirs, ready to mount a resurgence at any point,” Dr Gendelman said.

These days, we have incredibly effective drugs (called ART, or anti-retroviral therapy) that suppress the virus to such an extent that it is undetectable, and cannot be transmitted to another person (U=U).

U=U, or Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, is a vital message that should be shared, impacting as it does not only the possibility of further infections, but the lives of those living with HIV.

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