German Scientists Announce New Technique To Cut HIV Out Of Cells Without Destroying Them; Hope For Cure Grows

German scientists have used a genetic modification technique to cut HIV out of infected cells in mice and hope this breakthrough will lead to a cure for the virus.

A team of Biomedicine researchers at the Dresden University of Technology say they managed to create an enzyme that can identify a sequence of the virus and remove it with 90 % accuracy, according to The Local. They also claimed to have cured several HIV-infected mice with the new method which uses an enzyme to cut the virus from the DNA of infected cells.

“There are various methods and similar approaches, but removing the virus from infected cells is unique,” said Professor Joachim Hauber, head of the antiviral. He added that this approach was the only one so far to have actually reversed an HIV infection, leaving the treated cells healthy.

As to whether this technique would function with people, he said that could only be established in clinical trials for which the money is not yet available.

The Local reports:

Dresden team leader Professor Frank Buchholz said the ‘molecular scissors’ could be ready to use in ten years – as a somatic genetic therapy (using a patient’s own gentically altered cells).

“Blood would be taken from patients and the stem cells which can form blood cells, removed,” he said.

Laboratory work would introduce the crucial HIV-cutting enzyme into the stem cells, altering their DNA. They would then be put back into the patient.

The theory is that the genetically altered immune cells would reproduce, cut the HIV from infected cells – enabling them to function again.

This was the effect seen at least in part, among the mice.

“The amount of virus was clearly reduced, and even no longer to be found in the blood,” said Hauber.

President of the German Aids Society, Professor Jürgen Rockstroh said he hoped funding could be found for further work on the approach.

“It is one of the most exciting things of all,” he said. “There is a vague hope of cure, but that must first be proven.”

The Dresden team have managed to create this enzyme – via mutation and selection – so that it identifies HIV.

“The HI-pathogen is a retrovirus which gets into the genetic substance in DNA,” said Buchholz. Certain recombinase-class enzymes can cut up the DNA double helix and put it back together again in a different pattern.

The researchers have managed to manipulate the enzyme so that it can identify a particular sequence and remove it – and they say it is more than 90 percent effective in identifying the HI-virus in this way.

Hauber said the deciding phase, of bringing the approach to treating people in clinical studies, would be difficult in Germany.

“The potential is not being used,” he said, claiming that pharmaceutical companies have until now shown little interest in investing in potential cures for Aids.

He and Buchholz said they would be looking for sponsors and public money for their future research.

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