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Using gene-editing technology (known as CRISPR) scientists have successfully removed HIV implanted into mice —the first time complete elimination has been achieved in live animals. The breakthrough study included a ‘humanised’ model in which mice were transplanted with HIV DNA. These latest findings build on previous research that saw the partial deletion of HIV. This time, following a single treatment, the virus was eradicated from every tissue and organ.
“We have confirmed the data from our previous work and have improved the efficiency of our gene-editing strategy,” said lead researcher Dr Wen Hui of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (pictured). “We also show the strategy is effective in two additional mouse models: one representing acute infection in mouse cells and the other representing latent infection in human cells.” The new study marks another major step forward in the pursuit of a permanent cure for HIV, and paves the way for a human clinical trial of CRISPR.
In another first, a drug has proved successful at reducing the viral reservoir in some people with HIV. Results from a Phase II trial has shown the therapy — called ABX464 — can target viral DNA that hides within blood cells. Despite the groundbreaking results, Jean-Marc Steens of French biotech company Abivax admits there is still a lot more to do. “We saw an average decrease of 40 percent of the viral reservoir, which is probably not enough.”
Also, ABX464 only appeared to work in 50 percent of participants. At this stage, Sheen can only speculate the reasons why: “These could include the length of treatment they were on in the past, whether they were treated early or late in their infection, and what type of medication they have been receiving in the past.” Discovering a way to eradicate the HIV reservoir would be a major breakthrough in cure research. Some HIV cells are able to evade treatment, remaining dormant for years, only to suddenly reactivate and start producing more HIV.
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