A new gene altering therapy shows promising results against HIV in monkeys. A team of researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California have modified the DNA of monkeys so that their cells can obtain anti-HIV capabilities.
The standard vaccine mechanism consists of training one’s immune system so that it can begin to fight an infection present in the body. This time, scientists found a “think outside the box” method when it comes to HIV protection.
They came up with the idea of using gene therapy in order to add a new section of DNA that can “give instructions” on to kill HIV and then remove it from the body.
This idea was put into experimentation. All monkeys that participated in the study showed complete protection from all types of HIV for at least 34 weeks. The animals were protected even when exposed to high virus doses, the amount a chronically infected HIV patient would produce. This finding indicates that the new therapeutic method could be applied even to those who are already infected with the virus.
Prof. Michael Farzan, who is also the lead researcher, gave the following statement:
“We are closer than any other approach to universal protection, but we still have hurdles, primarily with safety for giving it to many, many people.”
So, there are still a few hurdles that need to be exceeded.
When it comes to developing HIV vaccines, the difficulty lies in the fact that the virus has the ability to mutate at a very high rate, being compared to a shifting target. But this new type of vaccine would target portions that the virus struggles to modify. Dr. Farzan even described it as being “more potent than any antibody”.
But there are still some issues regarding safety, as this gene therapy modifies parts of one’s DNA so that the body would produce “HIV-killers” in a constant manner. Up until now there is no information regarding the long term effects of constant HIV- killer production on the body.
The team is planning on starting human trials as soon as possible.
This is a very important step in HIV therapy development and Prof. Farzan’s team is very determined on perfecting this new method and making it available to as many people as possible.
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