Researchers have made major advances in treating and possibly treating HIV, by publishing Nobel Prize-winning CRISPR gene-editing techniques to purify the virus from the genomes of non-human primates.
A team of scientists freed the monkey immunodeficiency virus (SIV) – a virus closely related to HIV.
“We showed for the first time that a single inoculation of CRISPR gene modification, which is carried by a virus associated with the gland, can modify the SIV genome of infected cells in rhesus macaques,” said lead researcher Kamel Khalili, from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Gregor Fischer/ file photo
SIV behaves just like its human counterpart, HIV, and it is also adept at avoiding antiretroviral therapy (ART) by hiding in viral reservoirs in human tissues.
However, the researchers designed the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing architecture for SIV, a type of viral reservoir suppressor, which they tested in laboratory cell cultures.
And these tanks are where viral cells can hide for years, frustrating humanity’s efforts to eradicate disease. And such viral caches keep both SIV and HIV out of reach of treatments like ART, which prevent the viruses from replicating as the patient’s bloodstream is gradually cleared.
The team found early success and limited risks of collateral damage, so they set about encapsulating the genetic payload in a viral package that could then be injected intravenously into animals infected with SIV.
Next, the researchers tested the CRISPR treatment on three infected macaques, with a fourth as a control. Blood and tissue samples taken three weeks after treatment showed that CRISPR treatment reached the majority of potential viral reservoirs, including some hard-to-reach T cells.
They found that the SIV genome was effectively cut from infected cells with a high degree of resolution, remarkably at a significant penetration. Scientists heralded this as “an important development in what we hope will be the end of HIV / AIDS.”
Next, they plan to transfer their work to clinical studies in humans. “People all over the world have been suffering from HIV for 40 years, and we are now very close to clinical research that can lead to a cure for AIDS infection,” said Dr. Khalili.