Researchers at Temple University say they have “designed a way to permanently rid human cells of HIV-1 in a laboratory setting,” making this the first time any such procedure has been successfully accomplished.
A study published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details the process:
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.
One of the head researchers, Kamel Khalili, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience, calls this "one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS," and that the procedure could also be used as protection against a variety of viral-based infections. It's not, however, quite ready to go to clinic. More from our resident health experts at Be Well Philly:
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, a major, exciting step—and it's all happening right here in Philadelphia. Stay tuned to G Philly for any updates.