The CDC reports that more than 1.2 million people in the US are currently living with HIV, and 1 in 8 of them don’t even know it! While there is no cure known a this time for HIV, recent medical developments have allowed sufferers to live a longer life.
A 2015 study completed by a group of biologists including Martyn K White, Whenhui Hu and Kamel Khalili described in detail how they were able to hide the ‘anti-CRISPR’ system within another virus, which was in turn able to sneak past the immune system.
What is CRISPR?
CRSPR refers to a gene editing technique that has been discovered to show promise in the treatment of several diseases including HIV, cystic fibrosis, herpes and many types of cancers. It acts likes a pair of programmable scissors, capable of cutting through enzymes on a molecular level.
There is still a great deal of progress to be made before this technique will be actively used in HIV treatments, it does show a great deal or promise! To be effective, CRISPR needs to be able to snip the HIV from the infected cell without damaging the surrounding DNA. As HIV evolves and mutates, they are unable to program the system with a single genetic mugshot, instead requiring a more in-depth analysis including many separate unchanging sections.
How has it Performed in Studies?
One of the researchers, Kamel Khalili from Temple University explained how this technique can be used to remove large amounts of the viral DNA from the host cell.
“In a proof-of-concept study, we show[ed] that our gene-editing technology can be effectively delivered to many organs of two small animal models and excise large fragments of viral DNA from the host cell genome.
If this technology gets into the clinic to treat human patients, it’s not going to be very complicated. You don’t have to bring the patient to the clinic and do a bone marrow transplant or all kinds of complicated technology. You can basically apply this to any setting.”
Tests were carried out on rodents with a promising result, removing 50% of the necessary cells from the virus. It was also tested in mice that were grafted with human cells, the HIV went down significantly in all cases. The next stages will involve testing on primate models as they are closer in DNA to human beings.
The Future for CRISPR
While it is accepted that the CRISPR gene therapy may never be able to eradicate 100% of the HIV from the host, it is believed that it will be able to have a significant enough impact that it will allow the immune system to deal with the remainder.