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Gene Editing Could Lead to an HIV Cure

– Contributed content –

3 August 2017. HIV has been one of the most difficult medical conditions to address in the last 30 years or so. It first baffled doctors and was much misunderstood, but there is now a much better understanding of it and how we can treat it. New methods for treating and preventing HIV are emerging all the time, and doctors continue to work toward a cure. Recent developments have shown promising results from lab tests, using both studies with mice and with human embryos. In April 2017, researchers at Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh published a study in Molecular Therapy, which involved gene editing to remove HIV DNA from rat and mouse models. More recently, gene editing was carried out at Oregon Health and Science University on a human embryo.

The study published in the Molecular Therapy journal used three different animal models to delete HIV-1 (one of two main strains of HIV) from the bodies of infected animals. One of these was a “humanized” mouse model, which is created by injecting human cells into the animal. Humanized models of both rats and mice are used by research facilities such as Hera Bio Labs, who provide information about fertilization if you want to learn more about it. These models can be used to more closely replicate the human body for drug and genetic testing. The testing with the three different animal models in this particular study confirmed data from a previous study from the same team and improved their gene editing strategy.

DNA illustration

(PublicDomainPictures.net, Pixabay)

Using their gene editing technique, the researchers inactivated HIV-1 in transgenic mice. In the humanized mice, the animals carried latent HIV in human T cells, where the virus can remain undetected. The team was able to remove viral fragments from the human cells using their gene editing technology. The next step is to repeat the study using primates, which have a closer genetic makeup to humans, then eventually carry out a clinical trial with humans.

Gene editing in a human embryo, meanwhile, has caused a stir in the media, with many people expressing concerns about “designer babies.” However, the aim of this technique is to work toward eradicating genetic diseases, and researchers say that the idea of using it to create so-called designer babies isn’t particularly realistic. The recent study published in Nature by a team lead by Shoukhrat Mitalipov focused on correcting a genetic mutation that causes heart disease, rather than HIV. However, it used the same gene editing method, called Crispr. Previous attempts to perform gene editing on human embryos haven’t been so successful, so the study is an important one.

If gene editing can successfully be carried out on humans, it could help to address a wide range of health problems. In addition to helping to cure diseases of the immune system such as HIV, it could enable the removal of gene mutations to address inherited health conditions. While the technology is still being worked out, it might not be too long before the world starts seeing incredible results.

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