Published on Jul 22, 2014 -
Scientists 'delete' HIV virus from human DNA for the first time
Scientists used a DNA-snipping enzyme called Cas9 to cut out the virus
The cell's gene repair machinery then takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together -- resulting in a virus-free cell
Process could also be a cure for other latent infections, researchers say
'It's an exciting discovery, but not ready to go into the clinic,' said Dr Khalili
Once HIV conquers a human cell, it will stay there forever.
It inserts its deadly genome permanently into its victims' DNA, forcing them to be hooked on drugs for life.
But now, for the first time, researchers in Philadelphia have found a way to completely delete HIV from human cells by 'snipping' them out.
'The low level replication of HIV-1 makes patients more likely to suffer from diseases usually associated with ageing,' Dr Khalili said.
These include cardiomyopathy -- a weakening of the heart muscle -- bone disease, kidney disease, and neurocognitive disorders.
'These problems are often exacerbated by the toxic drugs that must be taken to control the virus,' Dr Khalili added.
Researchers based the two-part HIV-1 editor on a system that evolved as a bacterial defence mechanism to protect against infection.
Dr Khalili's lab engineered a 20-nucleotide strand of gRNA to target the HIV-1 DNA and paired it with a DNA-sniping enzyme called Cas9 and used to edit the human genome.
'We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies,' Dr Khalili said.
'We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it.'