Over the past few weeks, we have seen quite a few interesting medical breakthroughs. It now appears scientists have successfully eliminated the HIV DNA in live mice by using a method known as gene editing. While wildly successful, these news are met with a fair bit of criticism. Despite the opposition, the scientists aim to trial this method on primates moving forward.
On paper, it sounds utterly amazing to know we may have found a way to get rid of HIV once and for all. However, the way these scientists went about things raises a lot of concern, as they effectively altered the genome of live mice. This was done using the CRISPR technique, which allowed scientists to “cut out the bad genes and let the rest be”.
This initial experiment appeared to have been widely successful, although it is still far too early to conclude this as a working solution. To be more precise, the fact this technique works on a living animal is a major feat. However, that does not mean human experiments will yield similar results. To tackle this problem, the team of scientists aims to try this method on primates in the near future.
Assuming this method works as expected, the question becomes whether or not it can be adapted for other diseases as well. Curing HIV is a huge accomplishments, but with the treatment available, unfortunately there are other more deadly diseases. Curing cancer, for example, would be a massive breakthrough. It will take some time until we know what this new gene editing method can achieve in the long run.
It has to be said, the latest experiment was a rather thorough one. Three different types of mice were used, and all three trials proved to be quite successful. Moreover, the scientist used this “aggressive” method to ensure the virus could not rebound. After all, that is a very real possibility when using the currently available anti-retrieval therapy. By effectively editing the gene, the disease can be removed entirely.
One thing to take into account is how such an invasive course of action could trigger the host’s immune system. It appears the scientists successfully bypassed this problem as well. The CRISPR system was attached to an adeno-associated virus that does not trigger any automatic response from the host. As a result, they could “infiltrate” the host’s genes and successfully strip away the HIV parts.
It sounds like something that is almost too good to be true, yet researchers are confident in their method. The main problem is ensuring they only remove harmful DNA, which requires additional experiments to fine tune the procedure. Human trials are still a few years away, but they may become a very distinct possibility sooner than you might expect.
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