American scientists are now estimating that in as little as three years, a cure for HIV and AIDS could be available, as extensive research has proven that the virus can be snipped away and infected cells which characterize the disease can be prevented from ever returning.
Thus far the experimental techniques used by the scientists from Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia have been confined to the lab, but the researchers who have pioneered the technique have stated with confidence that their treatment will be ready for human trials within the next three years.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is one of the most deadly diseases affecting the population worldwide, and in most cases it is not so much the disease itself which causes death, but its side effect. The HIV virus works by attacking and killing cells of the immune system and thus leaves sufferers highly vulnerable to infections. Over time, with the breakdown of the immune system — mostly due to lack of treatment — the HIV virus transforms into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which greatly accelerates the progressive destruction of the human immune system.
The American scientists who are promising the HIV cure in three years, have published their study in Nature’s Scientific Reports and have shown that the use of state-of-the-art genetic editing technology can be used to literally cut the virus completely out of DNA cells.
Scientists in the U.S. have shown it is possible to literally cut away the HIV virus from the DNA of an infected person’s cells. The process is called CRISPR/Cas9, and with this treatment, patients could be virus-free. According to the Telegraph UK, the process would essentially involve engineering “the body to cure itself from the inside.”
Professor Kamel Khalili, Ph.D, the lead researcher and chair at the Department of Neuroscience at Temple University, has stated that the discovery he and his team made is a “big step” towards ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
“The fact that for the first time we have been able to completely eliminate segments of the viral genome in the laboratory demonstrates that we should be able to eliminate it in the human body. It’s an exciting time, and the reason is the technologies are available and the methods are in place and our knowledge has increased. And hopefully, there will be funding to take us toward this exciting moment for developing the cure strategy by eliminating viral DNA using editing techniques.”
Fox News‘ coverage explained that CRISPR/Cas9 involves targeting HIV’s genetic code in cells of an infected person by using modified Cas9 protein to recognize the viral code. Blood from an infected person is taken and Cas9 is introduced, it seeks out the HIV virus in the immune cells and releases an enzyme which removes the HIV sequence from the cells, essentially snipping out the virus. The now modified and healthy cells would then be returned to the patient via transfusion.
The scientists are confident that the virus would be cured if just 20 percent of the immune cells are replaced with the genetically altered cells.
The Cas9 protein, according to Professor Khalili, could be administered to patients along with the HIV anti-retroviral drugs until they are no longer necessary. Patients using anti-retroviral drugs to control their HIV would have to take them for life, and if the treatment is stopped the virus will rapidly replicate and mutate into full blown AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1.2 million people in the U.S. are infected with the HIV virus and unfortunately, approximately 12.8 percent of these are not aware that they are infected.
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