HIV is a sneaky virus. Its MO involves integrating its own genes into your DNA, so that even as antiretrovirals hold everything in check, HIV lurks quietly inside your cells. Now scientists have found a way to edit the virus straight out of the human genome—a potential cure for even latent infections.
Genome editing is powerful technique that has really come into its own lately, thanks to a remarkable DNA-cutting protein that easily and precisely cuts out a particular DNA sequence. In fact, genome editing been used to treat HIV before. Earlier this year, another group used genome editing to cut out the DNA sequence of a particular human protein the HIV virus latches onto.
The latest study, from Kamel Khalili at Temple University, uses a similar technique but to different ends. Rather than editing human genes, it goes straight for HIV. Khalili’s team showed that the protein could excise copies of the HIV genome from immune cells such as microglia and T cells. It also seemed to prevent any new HIV infection.
The research is still very new, so of course there are challenges to getting something that worked in a petri dish to work in a human. On the whole, very few cells in the human body are latently infected by HIV; how to you make sure the genome editing gets to those cells? And how do you make sure the protein never goes excising where it shouldn’t?
But if those challenges are solved, genome editing could be a big step toward an actual cure for HIV. Except for a couple cases involving bone marrow transplants, a cure has been notoriously elusive. HIV hides itself by basically editing your genome—it makes sense that a cure could involve editing your genome, too.