This article is a tribute to those who were on their way to the HIV – AIDS Symposium in Australia on MH17. They will be missed.
To try to explain what has been done, I’m using an image from the net which shows the process of infection of cells of the immune system and what the virus does in the cells. These researchers used human cells in culture.
What these researchers (Temple U. Med School and others) have succeeded in doing is attacking the HIV virus at “4”, after viral DNA has been incorporated into the person’s DNA. What they have succeeded in doing is basically what CCleaner does to your computer’s registry. They engineered an HIV DNA editor. I modified a diagram on the net to make the text more easily understandable:
Here's how it works: the team analyzed a part of our immune system that fights infection and built a "guide RNA" strand consisting of 20 nucleotides (RNA building blocks). Those strands were then injected into cells typically infected with HIV, like T-cells. There, they targeted the end parts of the virus's gene and snipped out all 9,709 nucleotides that made up its genome. Since the guide RNA strand contained no human DNA sequences, it left the host cell intact -- but free from HIV.By doing this, the viral DNA is cleaned out of the person’s DNA and therefore, it cannot produce RNA to create new HIV viruses to propagate in the person’s immune system. This won’t prevent subsequent reinfection, but it will prevent the devastation of the person’s immune system and will also prevent this person from producing additional HIV viruses to infect others…
This is an incredible achievement. There are many hurdles to clear before human usage. The first and biggest is that HIV is very mutable so its DNA exists in variants, not just one. So, there are several variants which will need specialized ‘scissors’. The other big challenge is to get the scissors to every infected cell…no mean feat.
However, by getting the variant right (for the right scissors) and the targeting right (to get every copy of the viral DNA), a cure is possible.