Scientists say they have succeeded in removing the HIV virus from infected cells, using the Nobel Prize-winning Crispr gene editing technology.

It works like scissors, but at the molecular level, it cuts the DNA so that the “bad” cells can be removed or turned off. The hope is to eventually be able to completely eliminate the virus from the body, although more work is needed to see if it will be safe and effective.

Existing HIV drugs can prevent the virus but not eliminate it. The University of Amsterdam team, presenting a summary of their early results at a clinical meeting this week, insists that their work remains only a “proof of concept” and will not be an HIV cure any time soon. And Dr James Dixon, assistant professor of stem cell technology and gene therapy at the University of Nottingham, agrees, saying the full implications still need to be explored.

Great challenge

Other scientists are also trying to use Crispr against HIV. And Excision BioTherapeutics says after 48 weeks, three HIV-positive volunteers had no serious side effects.

But Dr Jonathan Stoye, a virologist at the Francis Crick Institute, in London, said removing HIV from all cells that might harbor it in the body is Great challenge.

Most people with HIV need long-term antiretroviral therapy. If they stop taking these drugs, the dormant virus can reawaken and cause problems again. A few have been found to be “cured”, after aggressive cancer treatment has wiped out some of their infected cells, but this alone cannot be recommended to treat HIV.

March 20, 2024

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