Thanks to CRISPR Gene Editing, Scientists Could Knock HIV Out of Our Vocabulary

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For the first time, scientists edited HIV-1 out of the human genome and made sure it wouldn't come back.

A team at Temple University published a paper in Nature: Scientific Reports detailing how they used the CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing method to successfully knock out HIV-1, the most globally spread form of the human immunodeficiency virus, from human immune cells grown in the lab. 

When the team reintroduced HIV-1 DNA to the cells, the cells couldn't reinfect. Which means, after the genetically edited cells were cleared of the HIV DNA, the cells wouldn't receive it again — almost like how chicken pox works.

"The findings are important on multiple levels," Dr. Kamel Khalili, lead on the paper and director of the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple, said in a press release. "They demonstrate the effectiveness of our gene editing system in eliminating HIV from the DNA of CD4 T-cells and, by introducing mutations into the viral genome, permanently inactivating its replication. Further, they show that the system can protect cells from reinfection and that the technology is safe for the cells, with no toxic effects."

Scientists have believed gene editing, specifically CRISPR/Cas-9, could play a huge role in attacking devastating diseases, especially certain harder-to-treat cancers. But the additional ability to snip out HIV DNA — or simply turn it off — is a promising hypothesis.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

"Genome editing is showing promise in modifying or knocking out cell receptors so they might not be able to accept a viral infection," said Doug Brough, chief science officer at GenVec, in a January interview. "It could knock out the body's HIV receptors. In the cases where there's a dominant negative protein that gets expressed, you can think about knocking that down."

Right now, there is no cure for HIV, only treatment. But if researchers can bring gene editing to the market, it might be the key to ending a disease that affects over 35 million people.