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Scientists Eradicate HIV from Mice in Genetic Editing Experiment

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 3, 2019

Scientists using a gene editing technology called CRISPR have succeeded in eradicating HIV from laboratory mice, reports PBS.

Because the HIV virus affects the genetic sequence of individuals it infects, anti-retroviral drugs that control the levels of the virus in a person's system are never able to completely eliminate HIV, the PBS article said. But CRISPR, which edits genes in living organisms, could, in theory, remove that viral addition to a person's genetic code. That's exactly what researchers in a new study accomplished by using the therapy on mice.

The experiment holds promise for humans living with HIV because researchers flooded the mice with human immune system cells. They then divided the mice into three groups in order to test how efficient different therapeutic combinations were are eliminating HIV. Some mice received an anti-retroviral regimen the likes of which people living with HIV routinely use; others were given the CRISPR treatment; the third group was given both therapies.

The mice were taken off ART treatments for two months. In humans, stopping the therapeutic regimen leads to levels of HIV in the body resurging. But in a third of the mice that had reviewed both treatments, no such resurgence of HIV was detected, indicating that HIV had been eradicated from the mice.

USA Today reported that while the results are promising, it does not mean a cure for the disease is right around the corner - though an eventual cure remains the hope.

"We're working on this day and night and we hope it'll be sooner than later, but we have some obstacles to overcome," USA Today quoted Howard Gendelman, the author of the study, as saying. "There's a tremendous amount of effort to move this technology forward."

Among the challenges is refining CRISPR so that no unintended genetic modifications result from its use when attempting to cure diseases in humans.

Medical trials using monkeys would be the next step, media reports noted.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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