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Scientists eliminate 96% of HIV in living animals for the first time

Researchers hope this will pave the way for a human trial

HIV cell infection
This is what HIV looks like when it infects a cell

Scientists have eliminated 96% of HIV, the most the virus has ever been removed, in living animals for the first time.

In new research, US researchers have found they can almost completely remove HIV DNA from human cells implemented into mice.

They were able to ‘cut’ out the HIV by using a technique called CRISPR gene-editing.

The scientists hope this successful trial could pave the way to a human clinical trial.

Standing for Clustered Regularly Inter-Spaced Palindromic Repeats, the technique uses a DNA cutting enzyme and a tag which tells the enzyme where to cut.

This allows scientists to target genes to ‘silence’ or switch them off, and it can remove the small snip of DNA.

The study, by the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Pittsburg, involved a ‘humanized’ model in which mice were transplanted with human immune cells and infected with the virus.

The team tested three groups of mice.

In the first, they infected mice with HIV-1.

With this group, they removed 95% of the HIV-1 genes confirming their earlier findings.

In the second, they infected mice with a severe case of EcoHIV (the mouse equivalent of human HIV-1).

Because HIV was actively replicating, they found the CRISPR technique could block viral replication and potentially prevent systemic infection. This strategy also eliminated 95% from the mice.

And finally, the third group used a ‘humanized’ mouse model, engrafted with human immune cells, that was infected with HIV-1.

Following a single treatment, the scientists were able to nearly completely remove the virus from the infected human cells.

‘The next stage would be to repeat the study in primates, a more suitable animal model where HIV infection induces disease, in order to further demonstrate elimination of HIV-1 DNA in latently infected T cells and other sanctuary sites for HIV-1, including brain cells,’ Dr. Khalili said.

‘Our eventual goal is a clinical trial in human patients.’

 

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