Scientists “delete” HIV virus from human DNA!

A lot of progress has been made in the past 30 years in understanding, preventing, and treating HIV (previous post), and now scientists have figured out a way to essentially delete the HIV virus from human DNA.  To date, no cure exists for HIV/AIDS, but new developments from a group out of Temple University, published in PNAS, shows promise for suppressing viral gene expression and replication, and immunizing uninfected cells against HIV infection.

This finding is nicely summarized by the Daily Mail.  The scientists have developed molecular tools to cut out the HIV gene from our genome.  Here’s how it works:

  • Researchers based the two-part HIV-1 editor on a system that evolved as a bacterial defence mechanism to protect against infection. 
  • When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA. 
  • Dr Khalili’s lab engineered a 20-nucleotide strand of gRNA to target the HIV-1 DNA and paired it with a DNA-sniping enzyme called Cas9 and used to edit the human genome.
  • From there, the cell’s gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells. 

This next step is to develop the construct in order to conduct preclinical studies.  There is still work to be done in fighting this disease, however, this new cas9 system for editing out HIV from the human genome is a step in the path towards finding a cure.