Major breakthrough in HIV treatment?

Can one of the medical Dopers explain and comment on this article?

So remove all your cells, gene-edit them, put them back?

This is the latest example of a possibility enabled by CRISPR/Cas9, which is the hottest new thing in molecular biology. The Cas9 protein is programmed by a small RNA molecule, which can be made to order by scientists. The Cas9 protein rides along the chromosomes looking for DNA that matches the RNA code. When it finds a match, it makes a cut through both strands of the DNA molecule. Two different RNA codes can target separate Cas9 proteins to make double stranded breaks at opposite ends of the HIV DNA embedded in the human DNA of an infected immune cell. Once the breaks are made the cell’s DNA repair machinery can patch up the damage, but with the viral DNA no longer present.

The idea is to remove some blood from the patient, treat it in the lab with CRISPR/Cas9, then reintroduce it to the patient’s blood stream. The experiments show that, not only does it inactivate the virus in the infected cells, but it prevents the cells from being reinfected by the untreated cells. The news article claims that treating only 20% of the cells could lead to a cure.

Amazing! Many are predicting a Nobel prize for CRISPR. The science has been going on for quite a number of years, but the use of it for genetic engineering has only just begun.

To put CRISPR into perspective, I spent years trying different approaches to editing a gene out of a cell line to study its effects. But, the gene was so highly expressed that RNA approaches were useless; I could knock the gene expression down 95%, and have very little effect on the protein. First time out of the box, in a matter of days, using CRISPR, I was able to edit it out precisely and completely.

It’s absolutely the most important biology discovery in decades, and no one seems to give a shit. It has the potential to change our lives in awesome and terrifying ways, and the discussions of these implications should take precedence over the size of our presidential candidate’s genitalia.

I’ll use this opportunity to display my utter lack of comprehension regarding not only this technology, but disease itself:

How would “fixing” 1/5 of a person’s* blood, and only blood* produce a cure?

Doesn’t the virus reside in tissues other than just the blood, and why would 1/5 bring about a tipping point - esp. with something as resilient as HIV?

Man, this is interesting. If true, between this and PrEP, HIV/AIDS will pretty much be neutered and just left for us to “mop up.” Pretty amazing demonstration of the powers of science and technology to actually win a fight of this magnitude.

Ebola is next. I have a cousin who is on the Texas team working on vaccines for viral hemorrhagic fevers. I know just enough microbiology to follow her dumbed-down version of her job that she gave me, and it’s fascinating.

When I remember how devastating HIV was in the 80s, it is pretty amazing. It also makes the people who died early on almost seem like martyrs-- especially one guy I know who donated his body to research.

OT, a little, but the “SILENCE = DEATH” campaign in the 80swhere so many gay people bravely came out to no legal protections helped advance the cause of AIDS research, because as long as everyone could say “I don’t know anyone who is gay,” no one saw much point in researching a cure.

I’ve only read the article in the popular press, not the scientific paper, so I don’t understand the 20% part. HIV is an infection of the immune system, specifically killer T cells, which are transported through the blood stream. That is what is so insidious about it, it infects and kills the very cells that are trying to fight it off.

My guess about the 20% is that that is enough to start seriously killing the infected cells and if the therapy is kept up, eventually enough of the new T cells can attack the HIV infected cells to tip the battle in favor of the immune system, hopefully eventually ridding the body of the virus.

So, pretty important, then? :slight_smile:

I don’t know where you’re getting that from. This stuff is in the papers and on news sites on a nearly daily basis right now.