Millions of people around the world live with HIV, a virus that attacks the immune system, making it susceptible to illness. To prevent HIV from turning into AIDS, it has to constantly be treated with antiretroviral medication, because it integrates its DNA into the carrier’s immune system cells. Luckily, we might be on our way to a complete cure thanks to gene-editing technology.
Namely, a team of scientists from Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) managed “to eliminate the virus using a combination of gene-editing technology and a slow-release antiviral drug”. The experiment was performed on ‘humanised mice’, which are genetically modified to express responses similar to the human immune system. “The possibility exists that HIV can be cured,” notes Howard Gendelman, the chairman of UNMC’s pharmacology and experimental neuroscience department and the study’s author, adding that “It’s going to take a little bit of time but to have the proof of concept gets us all excited.”
How far are we from an HIV-free world?
Despite encouraging results, scientists aren’t sure when this method could enter clinical trials. “We’re working on this day and night and we hope it’ll be sooner than later, but we have some obstacles to overcome,” underlines Gendelman. “There’s a tremendous amount of effort to move this technology forward.” The results, however, have sparked hope that we might live in an HIV-free world sooner than expected.