Scientists Make Giant Leap Towards New HIV Cure

HIV and AIDS research has come a long way since the 1980s but a cure continues to elude us.  Yes, we have new treatments that can help to lessen the risk for transmitting it, but curing it is a completely different thing. 

This week, however, scientists at Temple University are saying they have identified a possible method for curing HIV and AIDS, as they have been able to completely eliminate the virus in animals.

HIV, of course, has been a major scourge on humanity in the 21stcentury, considered one of the most deadly diseases in the world, especially since it slowly disables the body’s natural immune system to break the body down over time. The first antiretroviral drug treatments for HIV were originally introduced in 1987, namely a drug called zidovudine, but there are now 20 different treatment options still, these treatments have not been effective at ridding the body of the virus, only making it virtually undetectable (and reducing transmission risk). 

Killing HIV has been complicated because of its life cycle mechanism in the body.  HIV attaches itself to human DNA and then replicates itself, which is complicated to treat.  Very recently, though, scientists have finally been able to separate the virus from the strands of DNA where it attaches; which is the first step to a cure. 

For the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine study, researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center have used gene-editing technology, combined with a slow-release virus suppression drug to completely eliminate HIV cells.  These mice were engineered to reproduce human immune system cells, and had been originally treated with a therapy known as LASER ART (Long-Acting Slow-Effective Release ART). 

More specifically, the scientists modified a traditional drug treatment, with a slow release strategy over the course of several weeks, to target spleen tissue, bone marrow, and the brain. These are parts of the body where clusters of inactive HIV cells notoriously build and hide. 

Once the initial treatment is deployed, the researchers use the gene editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9. This scrubs away segments of the genome, allowing scientists to remove the virus from the DNA chain.  

While this strategy is quite remarkable, it is important to note that researchers were only able to eliminate HIV in 9 out of 23 mice. Still, the 39 percent success rate has great promise, and that is what matters most.