Gene Editing Technology Expands the Range of Anti-HIV Tools Available?

Gene editing already has an array of applications in the medical world. It’s used to treat people with sickle-cell disease and various experiments suggest it can be used to modify the “faulty” genes responsible for conditions like haemophilia, eye cataracts and cystic fibrosis. Recent research suggests that the technology can even have potential for the development of an effective cure for HIV and AIDS.

Helping the Immune System Kill Off Hidden HIV?

CRISPR gene editing has long been discussed in the scientific community as one of the most viable technologies for the development of a reliable and highly effective cure for HIV.

Through this gene editing technique, HIV DNA is “extracted” from infected cells, even when it’s latent and dormant.

Various CRISPR animal studies have already been carried out to target infected cells that are carriers of viral genetic information. In some of the experiments, CRISPR gene editing was used alongside antiretroviral medications. The aim of the two approaches was to eradicate all of the viral particles. Gene editing activated latent HIV and antiretroviral therapy was then used to kill off the virus.

Now researchers are taking these efforts to the next level.

According to an MIT Technology Review report, a biotechnology company has added a gene-editing tool to the bodies of three HIV-positive individuals. The aim of the technology is to activate and destroy latent HIV from all parts of the body where it may be concealed.

This is still an early-stage experiment and the biotech company has announced an ambitious end result – to develop a single dose gene editing cure for HIV. The company announced that the first participants in its experiment received the “treatment” approximately one year ago.

On October 25, doctors involved in the experiment reported about some of the progress being made during a summit in Brussels. The report concluded that CRISPR gene editing was safe and lacking major side effects. The researchers, however, haven’t announced information about the effectiveness of the treatment yet.

HIV: A Sneaky Target

While the announcement paints a positive picture, the scientific world is still remaining cautiously optimistic. That’s because researchers understand precisely how difficult it is to target the virus.

Approximately four decades after the start of the HIV pandemic, there is still no vaccine against the virus. The reason why a vaccine can’t be developed is astonishing. For a vaccine to be effective, it has to trigger antibody production. HIV, however, can easily disguise and modify itself. When antibodies are produced, the virus changes and is capable of evading them.

HIV has been mutating rapidly and some research suggests it’s capable of mutating 10,000 to 100,000 times faster than other viruses. Because of this survival mechanism, it’s an incredibly challenging enemy that medical researchers find incredibly difficult to target effectively.

That’s why gene editing isn’t yet being hailed as the answer to all the issues that the medical research community has been attempting to address for decades now. Gene editing, however, can be used to address another complication that’s been standing in the way of vaccine development.

HIV can create hidden, inactive reservoirs that are eventually triggered upon necessity. These reservoirs are the reason why HIV-positive individuals need to be on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for life. ART is very capable of destroying the active virus within the immune system. If a patient discontinues ART, however, the latent reservoirs allow for the replication of the viral DNA. When this mechanism is cut off, a treatment for HIV will be developed in a more effective way that doesn’t require the lifelong administration of ART. CRISPR “deletes” the viral DNA from the places where it’s hiding. This technology was first developed in 2012 and it relies on the way bacteria “spot” and destroy incoming viruses. The mechanism was quickly studied and adapted to human DNA. It was a breakthrough discovery that can help for massive scientific and medicinal advances in the future.

When Will We Know if Gene Editing Works?

Patients participating in the CRISPR gene editing study were all HIV-positive individuals on ART. Researchers announced that the aim of the experiment was to get the volunteers off their medications for a period of 12 weeks after the administration of the gene editing treatment. Next researchers were to carry out tests needed to find out whether viral rebound was to occur.

The announcement made in Brussels suggests that the biotech company already has the needed data about two of the people participating in the study. The third patient, however, has been treated more recently and the information will be analysed later on. That’s why conclusive results are to be expected some time during 2024.

Take Action Now, You Have Options!

While we’re all eagerly awaiting the development of a HIV cure that works, it’s important to understand there are still excellent options available.

Getting tested frequently and knowing your status gives you the power to take proper care of your health.

HIV screening and ART are both readily available in Singapore through facilities like Shim Clinic.

Visit us during working hours every day of the week or contact Shim Clinic now to have your questions about HIV answered confidentially by our knowledgeable and compassionate staff members.