One of the most crucial medical goals outlined by UNAIDS would undoubtedly be tied to the total eradication of the HIV by the year 2030. To that end, the present day form of effective treatments mainly relate to the scope of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) – which unfortunately can only resist the illness ambit, instead of completely eliminating it. However on the brighter side, a team of scientists from the Temple University School of Medicine (TUSM) have potentially discovered the means to permanently remove HIV-1 from human cells, thus rendering the virus entirely harmless.
This breakthrough is believed to be more than just a hope to substantiate the arduous intent of medical organizations like UNAIDS. In fact, the researchers involved in the project believe, the discovery is an important step that might efficaciously take the center-stage in the battle against AIDS. As for the process in question, it entails the total snipping of the virus from the cellular ambit – since HIV is known to become a part of the human DNA (because of our immune system’s inability to clear away the microbe).
The ‘snipping’ is done with the use of a 20-nucleotide strand of gRNA (engineered in the lab itself) that directly targets the HIV-1 DNA. Given Ribonucleic acid’s vital ability to code and decode, this targeting leads to the pairing up of the HIV-1 with Cas9, a nuclease enzyme conventionally used for double strand breaks in DNA. This Cas9 in turn aids in the extrication of the 9,709-nucleotides that form the HIV’s genome. Favorably, the entire process was found to be successful for various cell types, including T-cells and monocytic cells – which tend to be the main hosts infected by HIV in general.
The removal of the HIV-1 DNA is however just one part of the ingenious procedure. The scientists also had to make sure that the introduced gRNA didn’t accidentally fuse with the patient’s genome. For this crucial step, they utilized some specific sequences of nucleotide that don’t match with the sequences of human DNA coding.
Now at the end of all of these monitored solutions, there are still some obstacles left in making the unique HIV snipping process a commercially feasible technique. One of them relates to the ‘accessing’ of every infected cell inside the affected person’s body, by a remedial agent. Moreover, HIV has a tendency to mutate, and hence the treatment has to administered at a personalized level for each individual patient (in accordance with their unique viral sequence).
Anyhow, the researchers firmly believe in the potential of this fascinating technique that could very well make its foray into the clinical realm in a few years time. This is what Dr. Kamel Khalili, who headed the definitive endeavor, had to say about the team’s breakthrough –
We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies. 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.
Check out the video below for more information from Dr. Kamel Khalili –