A group of researchers from Temple University have used the gene-editing technique, dubbed CRISPR, to successfully remove DNA strands of the deadly infection from a trio of mice. The astounding results mean that science is a step closer to finding a cure for the illness and implementing it in humans too.
The CRISPR tool allows scientists to literally cut and paste pieces of DNA; in this case, the tool was used to snip and extract the infected DNA from the mice’s bodies. This approach to reducing the spread of HIV is the first of its kind.
The findings of the research were published in the scientific journal Molecular Therapy. Three mice were involved in the experiment, including one which was injected with infected human cells.
According to Kamel Khalili, one of the lead researchers on the study, from the university’s centre for neurovirology, the results came as a “big surprise”. “I never thought that this CRISPR system was going to be working out so beautifully with such efficiency and precision when it first came onto the scene,” he noted.
Although the positive outcome is promising in finding a way to eliminate HIV, the researchers acknowledged that there is still further work to be carried out before a definite cure can be established. The virus is a harsh and unrelenting one. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, over 70 million people have been infected by HIV, in turn leading to half of those to lose their lives. Drug treatments are currently being used to treat the virus which diminish its effects and makes it near unnoticeable, however, there is still a risk that it may return in full force if treatment stops working.
Paul Volberding from the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research expressed his optimism for the new research though he noted that it “faces a challenge in scalability — getting the technology simplified and inexpensive — but is certainly worth following.”
The CRISPR gene editing tool, developed in 2012, has been making waves across the world for its ground-breaking and controversial methods.
Meanwhile, the Temple team plan to focus their efforts on primates, since these are closer to humans. They are currently working on securing funding to start primate clinical trials.