Scientists eliminate HIV in animal genome in historic first

On July 2, Nature Communications published a study in which scientists eliminated HIV from the DNA of 30% of HIV-infected test mice. This accomplishment is a huge step forward for finding a cure for humans.

Currently 36.9 million people are living with HIV worldwide according to UNAIDS. The World Health Organization reports that at least 35 million people have died from HIV in recorded history.

Massive strides have already been made in terms of addressing health issues that stem from HIV, including the accessibility to antiretroviral therapy (ART) which can make a person with HIV have an undetectable viral load and therefore make it so they cannot infect others. Additionally pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications can lower an HIV negative person’s chances of getting HIV through sex by 90% (more information about getting access to these medications can be found at Planned Parenthood). These medications, however, do not cure HIV and although extremely effective and lifesaving, have limitations. Limitations include that HIV can mutate and adapt to be resistant to ART and ART requires lifelong use.

More than 30 scientists worked on the study that through the combination of ART with CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing technology, were able to eliminate the HIV from the genome of nine mice. In the study a LASER ART (a slow effective release form of ART) was used and then the CRISPR-Cas9 to completely rid about one third the infected mice of HIV.

Kamel Khalili, a lead scientist in the study and director for neurovirology and the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University, said that clinical trials for the gene editing tool could begin next year, pending the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. He has also said, “This observation is the first step toward showing for the first time, to my knowledge, that HIV is a curable disease.”

Where is PrEP and ART available in your community? What else can we do to advance a cure to AIDS?

 

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