California – On Tuesday, October 25, the journal Cell Reports published a study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Gladstone Institute, that found that HIV could be blocked by gene-edited cells from people immune to the virus.

Researchers experimented with healthy volunteers whose immune system reject HIV. The process of such experiment was through CRISPR/Cas9 technology, used to edit genomes by changing DNA and RNA.

HIV could be blocked by gene-edited cells from people immune to the virus. Photo credit:
HIV could be blocked by gene-edited cells from people immune to the virus. Photo credit:

During the investigation, researchers extracted blood from the volunteers and mixed their genes and HIV to cause a mutation. The life of such genes is of around 2 or 3 weeks, and since CRISPR/Cas9 is a fast technique, in a short period researchers could check the advance of the mutation.

After the modification had been made, they found that T cells, which are in charge of the immune response, hobbled HIV. Now they are thinking about the possibility of trying this with HIV-positive patients in the future.

UCSF and Gladstone’s crew stated that if these immune cells are used in patients with the virus, they could reduce their doses of retroviral drugs but they will still need them for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Alexander Marson and Dr. Nevan Krogan, leaders of the research, said this is a significant step in order to find a cure for HIV or at least diminish its extent.

Current treatment for HIV

Since the HIV was discovered in the 80’s, science has been looking for a cure for this virus. By now, there is no cure for it but there are treatments that help to control the infection and avoid it transforms into AIDS.

In 1987 the first treatment for HIV was discovered, the Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor (NRTI) therapy had positive reactions in patients for the first months, but with the pass of the times the patients got worse and did not prevent or extend the lives of the patients.

Antiretroviral drugs were first used in patients in 1995, its benefits helped to reduce the spread of the virus from HIV-positive patients. Such treatment contributes to protecting the immunological system and dimish the extent of the infection in the T cells. Actually, this therapy is the only one practiced to control the virus and consists of daily doses in order to prevent the mutation into AIDS.

Other gene-editing technologies

The Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN) works by cutting specific DNA sequences. This technique combines a nuclease with a location of the DNA, the genome-editing starts by ionizing and causing double-strand breaks (DSB), a lesion to DNA, so it can repair itself.

TALEN is most applied to modify plant genomes, create food crops with nutritional qualities and to correct cells related diseases such as xeroderma pigmentosum, epidermolysis bullosa, and sickle cell disease.

Another gene-editing technique used is the Zinc Finger Nuclease (ZFN), which consists of binding DNA and eukaryotic cells with restriction enzymes It targets specific locations of DNA, and like TALEN, the ZFN lesion a part of DNA to provoke its own repair mechanism.

ZFN is commonly used to alter plants and animals genomes but researchers also believe there is a possibility that ZFN can be also used to treat infections such as HIV.

Source: Cell Reports