Yes! You have read it right, Researchers say they have removed HIV from the DNA of mice. The scientists say could be an early step toward an intangible cure for humans.HIV infects 37 million people worldwide, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, and only about 22 million of those people receive antiretroviral therapy. Nearly 1 million people died of HIV-related issues in 2017, according to the WHO. (1)
How it started
A study credited to more than 30 scientists from Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, was made possible by an antiviral drug in unification with the tool called CRISPR that can edit genes. The researchers eliminate HIV in nine of 23 mice that were modified so their immune systems better burlesqued those of humans.
Experts say Stem cell transplants are risky, bring serious side-effects and would not be preferred for most patients. Earlier this year, revelations that a second person had seemingly been rid of the virus raised hopes that another patient’s cure 12 years earlier was not a one-off victory. (2)
The clearance of HIV in living creatures
HIV-1 elimination requires clearance and removal of integrated proviral DNA from infected cells and tissues. The viral clearance in latent infectious reservoirs in HIV-1 infected humanized mice was manifested through the sequential long-acting slow-effective release antiviral therapy (LASER ART) and CRISPR-Cas9. HIV-1 subgenomic DNA fragments, spanning the long terminal repeats and the Gag gene, are excised in vivo, that results in the elimination of integrated proviral DNA. The virus is not detected in blood, lymphoid tissue, bone marrow and brain by nested and digital-droplet PCR as well as RNAscope tests. The off-target effects of mediation of CRISPR-Cas9 are not detected. Adoptive transfer of human immunocytes from dual treated, virus-free animals to uninfected humanized mice fails to produce infectious progeny virus. In contrast, HIV-1 is readily detected following sole LASER ART or CRISPR-Cas9 treatment. These data provide proof-of-concept that permanent viral elimination is possible. (3)
Once deadly, HIV can now be managed with a treatment called antiretroviral therapy. The therapy only keeps the virus in check; without constant medication, the virus will quickly decimate a patient’s ability to fight off sickness. Previously, Khalili’s team at Temple had found a way to remove significant amounts of HIV DNA from rats and mice. But the technique could not completely remove the infection. Later, Khalili’s lab joined forces with a University of Nebraska Medical Center lab attacking the problem in a different way. The scientists combined the gene-editing strategy with a drug designed to beat back HIV. A few other HIV experts emphasized that there is a big scientific leap from promising results in mice to success in humans. (4)
The tremendous stigma
The modern drugs are good at keeping HIV at bay, a permanent cure would bring big benefits to patients. Constant drug treatment can contribute to other health complications and just keeping the pills in the medicine cabinet can invite unwanted scrutiny from family or significant others. Every time when HIV patient takes those pills, it reminds that he/she has HIV. That could be a tremendous stigma.