Can Gene Editing Thwart HIV?

July 02, 2008 09:15 AM
by Cara McDonough
Scientists are researching whether it is possible to make people immune to HIV through new gene-editing techniques.

30-Second Summary

In the 1990s, scientists became interested in studying gay men who were able to engage in sexual relations with HIV-positive partners without getting infected.

The men, researchers discovered, had a mutation that kept their cells from producing a normal CCR5 protein, which is one of the two major types of white blood cells and helps the body fight off infections.

But CCR5 plays another role: HIV pulls itself inside human cells by grabbing onto CCR5, which decorates the surface of T-cells.

A research team from the University of Pennsylvania has developed a method to clip the protein out of some T-cells and has published its research on the Nature Biotechnology Web site this week.

The method was tested on mice, not humans, “so it should be a source of guarded optimism, because it’s not certain the technique would work in humans,” reports Wired.

Furthermore, the method, at least in its initial stages, may not be used to give people actual immunity, but to permanently raise the T-cell count of those already infected with HIV, allowing them to resist secondary infections and remain healthy.

The news, however, is promising, especially as HIV research has experienced recent lows. Two HIV vaccine trials failed last year, and South Africa recently outlawed vitamin trials geared to combat AIDS when officials found that the unauthorized tests were being conducted in poor communities.

Headline Links: HIV immunity may be possible

Video: HIV immunity

Related Topics: AIDS vitamin trials; vaccines; the CCR5 protein

Reference: HIV/AIDS facts, living with HIV


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