Researchers from Temple University have successfully deleted the HIV virus from a strand of human DNA for the first time ever, but when will the ground-breaking treatment be offered to HIV patients?
Temple University researchers note that HIV-1 virus has historically been incurable because of the fact that the virus permanently embeds itself in the victim's DNA.
"The HIV-1 virus has proved to be tenacious, inserting its genome permanently into its victims' DNA, forcing patients to take a lifelong drug regimen to control the virus and prevent a fresh attack."
Therefore, researchers have been looking for a way to cut out the infected portion of the DNA for good without harming the genome's structure. That is exactly what they did in one human lab sample back in July of 2014. However, despite having a year to continue testing, no word has been given on when the treatment could be made available for patients. The researchers say the findings are promising but that they are not ready to move forward with clinical trials just yet.
"It's an exciting discovery, but it's not yet ready to go into the clinic. It's a proof of concept that we're moving in the right direction."
In the study published July 21, 2014, Dr. Kamel Khalili, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple, and his research colleagues detail exactly how they were able to delete the HIV virus from a strand of human DNA. A DNA-snipping enzyme, called Cas9, would "hunt down" the virus containing the genome and simply snip it out. After it was removed, a cell repair treatment was used. The gene repair machinery would solder, like a tiny DNA welder, the ends of the genome together, resulting in a complete genome free of HIV.
The video above outlines the process and exactly how effective it could be for HIV patients. So why hasn't the treatment become available almost a year after the ground-breaking research was complete? The answer is simple: The DNA snipping process will need to be done on all infected cells in the human body. This can pose a number of challenges that researchers have yet to be able to fully address.
"The researchers must devise a method to deliver the therapeutic agent to every single infected cell. Finally, because HIV-1 is prone to mutations, treatment may need to be individualized for each patient's unique viral sequences."
Therefore, it seems that though an HIV removal process has been established, individualized treatment plans may be needed to fully eradicate the virus. Despite the setbacks, Khalili is hopeful about the Cas9 treatment and gene therapy.
"We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies. We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it."
[Image Credit: Temple University]