HIV virus has been a global problem for decades now, and even though scientists did make progress in battling this illness, these is no definite solution (so far). So it is surprising that the answer might lay in CRISPR technology, primarily developed for genetically modifying crops and plants. CRISPR gene editing method allows scientists to identify and locate the DNA sequence they want to modify and basically improve it by a copy/paste method. So the end result is an edited organism that does not contain any outside DNA.
CRISPR vs HIV
A team of scientists working at the Temple University located in Philadelphia decided to take a closer look at CRISPR/Cas 9 technology and find the way to use it in order to remove HIV-1 genome from human CD4+T cells. These cells are in charge of immune system. Their attempt was successful and HIV-1 genome disappeared completely from the infected cells. This finding might be a watershed moment in our history because HIV-1 is the main source of HIV infections.
Further analysis of the few treated individuals revealed that HIV-1 replication has slowed down and that their general health has improved. These astonishing results are a proof that immune system can repair itself and that CD4+T cells will not be damaged by this brand new treatment. As a matter of fact, the small number of patients who were involved in this study showed a huge progress in a very short period of time.
As we have previously mentioned, the host genome was not affected in any way after this treatment. Their DNA remained unchanged after the successful removal of HIV-1 from the immune cells. There are even indications that the treated cells are almost immune to a new HIV-1 infection, but this claim has to be explored furthermore. However, one thing is certain – the viral load of the treated patients decreased significantly. The research team from Temple University still have plenty of work ahead of them for sure.
The cure for HIV-1?
This trial was not large and it included only a handful of individuals that are infected with HIV-1 virus. It is certainly a huge step forward because this finding might lead us straight to the cure. Various drug therapies are available for the infected patients and they allow them to live a normal life for years to come. However, the virus is still present in their system and it might affect them in the long run if they are not careful. Any step away from the prescribed therapy might bring the virus back to the surface. So yes, once the virus gets into human system, there is no going back.
What makes CRISPR/Cas 9 technology so important is the fact that it can be used to target specific areas of a cell, and modify the parts that need repair. The fact that the technology developed for genetically modifying crops can be used to save thousands and thousands of lives and it might be the solution we have all been waiting for decades is very exciting. Temple University will continue their research and we are all excited to see the results.