In what’s being described as major progress towards finding a cure for HIV in people, scientists have announced the successful eradication of the virus from mice.
The successful eradication which has made history, as the first time the virus has been eradicated in a living animal, was made by researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
“Our study shows that treatment to suppress HIV replication and gene editing therapy, when given sequentially, can eliminate HIV from cells and organs of infected animals,” explained Kamel Khalili, PhD.
Currently, treatment for HIV focuses on the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which suppresses HIV replication, however, does not eliminate the virus from the body, and if ART is stopped IV rebounds, renewing replication and fueling the development of AIDS.
The scientists latest success used a combination of gene editing and gene therapy, known as CRISPR-Cas9, with a recently developed therapeutic strategy known as long-acting slow-effective release (LASER) ART.
According to the scientists, the modified slow release ART was packaged into nanocrystals, which readily distribute to tissues where HIV is likely to be found lying dormant. From there, they are stored within cells for weeks and slowly release the drug.
The idea was tested on mice that were engineered to produce human T cells susceptible to HIV infection. Once the infection was established, the mice were treated with LASER ART and subsequently CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, resulting in the complete elimination of HIV in about one-third of HIV-infected mice.
“The big message of this work is that it takes both CRISPR-Cas9 and virus suppression through a method such as LASER ART, administered together, to produce a cure for HIV infection,” Dr Khalili said.
“We now have a clear path to move ahead to trials in non-human primates and possibly clinical trials in human patients within the year.”