Temple University Eliminates HIV Virus From Human Cells

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Friday July 25, 2014

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia have made a breakthrough in attacking HIV, and it could be the first step toward a cure. ABC 6 News reports that for the first time, researchers at Temple University have been able to eliminate HIV from human cells.

"The current therapy for AIDS does not eliminate viruses, but rather suppresses virus replication," said Dr. Kamel Khalili from Temple University School of Medicine.

He explained that current drugs do a good job of keeping patients alive, but they don't cure HIV/AIDS. If there's a break in taking the drugs, the virus starts building again. That's what happened with the baby in Mississippi that experts had previously said was "cured" of AIDS.

Instead, Khalili's team has created a protein combo that targets and attaches itself to the HIV in a cell's DNA. It then cuts out the infected part. The cell repairs itself and becomes a healthy cell again.

"Precise, fast, and has no harm to the cells," Khalili said.

The process has worked on human cells in the laboratory, and animal tests have begun, to make sure it kills all the HIV. Khalili said the next challenge is to determine the best way to give it to humans. It may take several years, but his team believes it will work... and may even go a step further.

"We hope that the technology that we have developed can also help protect individuals -- uninfected individual -- from HIV," said Khalili, who believes the process will also work on other viral infections, and possibly for cancer.

MSNBC's The Grio reports that Khalili, Wenhui Hu, MD, PHD, the Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Temple and their team worked to delete the HIV-1 proviral DNA. They used a DNA-snipping enzyme (nuclease) and a targeting strand of RNA (guide RNA or gRNA) to find the viral genome and remove the HIV-1 DNA. Once the HIV-1 DNA is removed, the cell's gene repairs itself, creating a virus-free cell.

Khalili said they are working to create a way to get the therapeutic agent to every infected cell of a patient. He noted treatment may have to be individualized for each unique viral sequence of HIV-1.

"This is one important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS," Khalili told NBC. "It's an exciting discovery, but it's not yet ready to go into the clinic. It's a proof of concept that we're moving in the right direction."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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