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Scientists Harness Crispr to Remove HIV from Cells

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In a groundbreaking development, scientists have achieved the elimination of HIV from infected cells, employing the Nobel Prize-winning Crispr gene-editing technology. Functioning akin to molecular scissors, Crispr works at the DNA level, excising "bad" segments to render them inactive or removable.

This advancement holds promise for the eventual eradication of the virus from the body, although extensive research is imperative to ascertain its safety and efficacy. While existing HIV medications can suppress the virus, they fall short of complete eradication.

Presenting a synopsis of their preliminary findings at a recent medical conference, the University of Amsterdam research team underscores that their work represents a mere "proof of concept" and does not constitute an immediate cure for HIV.

Dr. James Dixon, an associate professor specializing in stem-cell and gene-therapy technologies at the University of Nottingham, concurs, emphasizing the necessity for thorough examination of the full findings. "Significant further investigation is required to demonstrate the replicability of these results in the context of whole-body therapy," he remarked.

Challenges Ahead

Efforts to utilize Crispr against HIV are also underway by other scientific groups. Excision BioTherapeutics reports that three HIV-positive volunteers exhibited no serious side effects after 48 weeks of treatment.

However, according to Dr. Jonathan Stoye, a virus expert at the Francis Crick Institute, the task of eliminating HIV from all potential reservoirs within the body poses significant challenges. Concerns persist regarding potential off-target effects and long-term complications of the treatment.

He added, "It therefore seems likely that many years will elapse before any such Crispr-based therapy becomes routine - even assuming that it can be shown to be effective."

Understanding HIV's Persistence

HIV infiltrates and assaults immune-system cells, co-opting their machinery to replicate itself. Despite effective treatment, some infected cells enter a dormant state, still harboring HIV DNA, albeit without active viral production.

Most individuals with HIV require lifelong antiretroviral therapy to keep the virus suppressed. Discontinuation of these medications can lead to viral reactivation and subsequent health issues.

While a small number of cases have shown apparent "cure" following intensive cancer therapy, this approach is not advisable solely for HIV treatment. Maintaining antiretroviral treatment adherence can afford individuals with HIV a life expectancy comparable to those without the virus.

Looking Forward

Richard Angell from the Terrence Higgins Trust emphasizes the significance of ongoing research in the quest for an HIV cure. He stresses the need to expedite efforts in transforming this technology into a viable solution for individuals living with HIV.

While a cure for HIV remains elusive, effective treatment options abound. With proper medication adherence, individuals with HIV can lead long and healthy lives, with minimal risk of viral transmission to their partners. Additionally, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is available to prevent HIV transmission among high-risk individuals.

The combination of effective treatment and preventive measures offers hope in the endeavor to end new HIV cases by 2030, marking a historic milestone in combating a virus without relying on a vaccine or cure.


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