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Double whammy to HIV

SCIENCE

In a world-first, researchers have eliminated HIV from the genomes of living animals — marking yet another step forward in the development of a cure. “Our study shows that treatment to suppress HIV replication and gene-editing therapy, when given sequentially, can eliminate HIV from cells and organs of infected animals,” says Dr Kamel Khalili of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

Presently, successful treatment of HIV is achieved through antiretroviral therapy (ART). But it is not a cure; if treatment is stopped the virus rebounds. This is because a reservoir of the virus hides dormant in the genomes of cells of the immune system. Dr Khalili and his team have previously used gene-editing technology to remove HIV from the genomes harbouring the virus. As with ART, however, gene-editing cannot eradicate HIV by itself.

But with a long-acting release of antiretroviral drugs that specifically target hidden sanctuaries of HIV (a process called LASER ART), the Philadelphia-based researchers were able to suppress replication of the virus for extended intervals of time so that they could — through gene-editing — completely rid the cells of HIV in mice. The takeaway of this work, say the researchers, is that it may take gene-editing and virus suppression through LASER ART administered together to produce a possible cure for HIV infection. “We now have a clear path to move ahead to trials in non-human primates and possible clinical trials in human patients within the year,” says Dr Khalili.

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