❝ Scientists managed to eliminate HIV-1 DNA from T cell genomes in human lab cultures. It will take time for advanced use in humans, but it is a remarkable accomplishment.
Using the much-touted CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing method, scientists have demonstrated how they can edit HIV out of human immune cell DNA, and in doing so, can prevent the reinfection of unedited cells too.
❝ If you haven’t heard of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technique before…It allows scientists to narrow in on a specific gene, and cut-and-paste parts of the DNA to change its function.
Earlier this year, scientists started using CRISPR/Cas9 to successfully treat a genetic disease – Duchenne muscular dystrophy – in living mammals for the first time, and now it’s showing real potential as a possible treatment for HIV in the future.
❝ The technique works by guiding ‘scissor-like’ proteins to targeted sections of DNA within a cell, and then prompting them to alter or ‘edit’ them in some way. CRISPR refers to a specific repeating sequence of DNA extracted from a prokaryote – a single-celled organism such as bacteria – which pairs up with an RNA-guided enzyme called Cas9.
So basically, if you want to edit the DNA of a virus within a human cell, you need a bacterium to go in, encounter the virus, and produce a strand of RNA that’s identical to the sequence of the virtual DNA.
This ‘guide RNA’ will then latch onto the Cas9 enzyme, and together they’ll search for the matching virus. Once they locate it, the Cas9 gets to cutting and destroying it.
❝ Using this technique, researchers from Temple University managed to eliminate HIV-1 DNA from T cell genomes in human lab cultures, and when these cells were later exposed to the virus, they were protected from reinfection…
❝ While gene-editing techniques have been trialled before when it comes to HIV, this is the first time that scientists have figure out how to prevent further infections, which is crucial to the success of a treatment that offers better protection than our current antiretroviral drugs.
Bravo! As usual, technology and science are themselves immune from Good and Bad. Those uses are defined by the humans who use advances to their own ends. That’s where ethics are required. Full credit to Kamel Khalili and fellow researchers at Temple University who brought their talents to bear on one of the scourges of the 20th Century and more.