The creation of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV has drastically improved the life expectancy of those with the virus, and has also reduced the likelihood of transmission to others. Although HIV is no longer a death sentence, antiretroviral drugs come with extreme side effects, they’re very expensive, and patients must take them for life.
“Antiretroviral drugs are very good at controlling HIV infection,” said Kamel Khalili, of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia. “But patients on antiretroviral therapy who stop taking the drugs suffer a rapid rebound in HIV replication.”
Recently, Khalil’s team at Temple made a huge breakthrough in HIV treatment by removing HIV-1 DNA from human cells using a specialized gene editing system. Once the HIV-1 DNA sequence was removed, the loose ends of the genome were reconnected by the cell’s own repair machinery.
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After the treatment, the cells whose HIV-1 had been eradicated were found to function normally, and there were no toxic effects. Scientists then attempted to reinfect the edited cells with HIV, and the cells were resistant to the virus.
“[The research] shows that the system can protect cells from reinfection and that the technology is safe for the cells, with no toxic effects,” Khalili said. “The findings are important on multiple levels … the questions they address are critical, and the results allow us to move ahead with this technology.”