Crazy cool news out of Temple University today, y’all: As per a just-published study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Temple’s neuroscience department have figured out a way to edit human cells and “snip out” HIV DNA, essentially eliminating the virus from cells for good.
The press release reads like a sci-fi novel. Listen:
When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and excise the HIV-1 DNA. From there, the cell’s gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells.
Crazy, right? Study co-author Kamel Khalili, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple, calls it “one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS.” And while the treatment is not yet ready to go to the masses (more on that in a second), co-author Wenhui Hu, also in the neuroscience department, says it’s “proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction.”
The research, of course, still has a ways to go. For one thing, while the method has proven formidable at snipping out latent HIV virus from some human cells, it hasn’t been quite as effective at delivering the one-two punch to all cells infected with the virus; they’re working to come up with a therapeutic delivery system that would do exactly that. Another challenge: HIV-1 is prone to mutations, so they’d need to figure out a way to tailor the treatment to individual patients’ needs.
Still. It’s a big step, and the research team seems confident: “We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS,” said Khalili in a press statement. “I think this technology is the way we can do it.”
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