Researchers ‘delete’ HIV code from infected cells for first time

Many advancements and discoveries have been made in the last five years regarding HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A good number of those discoveries involve eliminating the virus from a patient or reducing the viral load to undetectable levels, but few have actually found a way to eliminate the virus at the genetic level. SEE ALSO: 7 in 10 HIV patients are lacking treatment in the US Now, however, researchers can say for the first time they have been able to achieve such a feat. Through a complex process of genetic design and construction, a team from Temple University has successfully deleted HIV-1 from laboratory cells’ DNA. HIV-1 is the most easily transmitted form of the virus, and is the one targeted by modern antiretroviral treatments. Control and elimination of HIV-1 is essential for a patient because even at low levels the virus contributes to weakening of the heart muscle, bone disease, kidney disease and neurocognitive disorders. “The low-level replication of HIV-1 makes patients more likely to suffer from diseases usually associated with aging,” Kamel Khalili, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple, told MNT. “These problems are often exacerbated by the toxic drugs that must be taken to control the virus.” To find a way to completely eliminate HIV-1, Khalili and his team combined “a DNA-snipping enzyme” with a a strand of gRNA used to “hunt down” the HIV-1 virus genome. The newly-created molecular tool, dubbed an “HIV editor,” was designed to enter the cell and look for “long terminal repeats” (LTRs) of the HIV-1 genome. These repeating sequences are indicative of the start and end of the HIV-1 virus’s DNA, and once found, they signified two points on the DNA strand for Khalili’s molecular tool to start modification. What happens is akin to cutting out a section of a string and then connecting the loose ends back together without the missing piece. The HIV editor makes an incision in a cell’s DNA at the start and finish of the HIV-1 virus’s genome. That virus section is removed, and the HIV editor then “solders” the healthy DNA ends back together. The result is a virus-free cell. During the research, the HIV editor was proven effective for three of the main body cells known to harbor the HIV-1 virus. SEE ALSO: Women of Color HIV Initiative reveals data on Hispanics “This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS,” Dr. Khalili said. “It’s an exciting discovery, but it’s not yet ready to go into the clinic. It’s a proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction. 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.” According to AVERT, 1.3 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and more than a fifth don’t know they have the virus. Men having sex with men are the most at-risk for contraction of HIV, and non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics have the highest diagnosis rates in the country. There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS, but modern antiretroviral medications have made it possible for patients with the virus to live a normal life span.The post Researchers ‘delete’ HIV code from infected cells for first time appeared first on Voxxi.

Researchers have deleted HIV from laboratory cells’ DNA. (Shutterstock)

Many advancements and discoveries have been made in the last five years regarding HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A good number of those discoveries involve eliminating the virus from a patient or reducing the viral load to undetectable levels, but few have actually found a way to eliminate the virus at the genetic level.

SEE ALSO: 7 in 10 HIV patients are lacking treatment in the US

Now, however, researchers can say for the first time they have been able to achieve such a feat. Through a complex process of genetic design and construction, a team from Temple University has successfully deleted HIV-1 from laboratory cells’ DNA. HIV-1 is the most easily transmitted form of the virus, and is the one targeted by modern antiretroviral treatments. Control and elimination of HIV-1 is essential for a patient because even at low levels the virus contributes to weakening of the heart muscle, bone disease, kidney disease and neurocognitive disorders.

“The low-level replication of HIV-1 makes patients more likely to suffer from diseases usually associated with aging,” Kamel Khalili, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple, told MNT. “These problems are often exacerbated by the toxic drugs that must be taken to control the virus.”

To find a way to completely eliminate HIV-1, Khalili and his team combined “a DNA-snipping enzyme” with a a strand of gRNA used to “hunt down” the HIV-1 virus genome. The newly-created molecular tool, dubbed an “HIV editor,” was designed to enter the cell and look for “long terminal repeats” (LTRs) of the HIV-1 genome. These repeating sequences are indicative of the start and end of the HIV-1 virus’s DNA, and once found, they signified two points on the DNA strand for Khalili’s molecular tool to start modification.

Genetics is complex, but the battle against HIV is looking promising.
The HIV editor finds the genetic code of HIV-1 and snips it from a cell’s DNA. (Shutterstock)

What happens is akin to cutting out a section of a string and then connecting the loose ends back together without the missing piece. The HIV editor makes an incision in a cell’s DNA at the start and finish of the HIV-1 virus’s genome. That virus section is removed, and the HIV editor then “solders” the healthy DNA ends back together. The result is a virus-free cell.

During the research, the HIV editor was proven effective for three of the main body cells known to harbor the HIV-1 virus.

SEE ALSO: Women of Color HIV Initiative reveals data on Hispanics

“This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS,” Dr. Khalili said. “It’s an exciting discovery, but it’s not yet ready to go into the clinic. It’s a proof of concept that we’re moving in the right direction. 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.”

According to AVERT, 1.3 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and more than a fifth don’t know they have the virus. Men having sex with men are the most at-risk for contraction of HIV, and non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics have the highest diagnosis rates in the country. There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS, but modern antiretroviral medications have made it possible for patients with the virus to live a normal life span.

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The post Researchers ‘delete’ HIV code from infected cells for first time appeared first on Voxxi.

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