Could HIV’s days be numbered? If new research pans out, yes.
Some crafty German scientists managed to craft an enzyme that cuts HIV DNA from infected cells, according to a report in Science. The enzyme, Tre recombinase, took only three months to successfully destroy HIV living in human tissue – in a laboratory, of course.
Such an enzyme could potentially provide a cure. Alan Engelman of Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute writes, “A customized enzyme that effectively excises integrated HIV-1 from infected cells in vitro might one day help to eradicate (the) virus from AIDS patients.”
Though promising, the enzyme does not guarantee the end of HIV’s reign of terror.
Sharon Lewin – infectious disease director at Australia’s The Alfred hospital – tells The Australian, “It’s the beginning of a new avenue that we might have towards a cure, but any cure is still a long way off” One of the main problems stems from HIV’s ability to replicate. The Australian continues:
Steve Wesselingh, an HIV physician and director of Melbourne’s Burnet Institute, said it was an important step as eradication had been considered practically impossible.
“There’s a huge number of cells that have integrated viral DNA, including brain cells,” Professor Wesselingh said. “You have to design something that can find all the viral DNA and remove it all — all you have to do is leave one copy, and it reactivates.”
Cutting HIV out of infected cells had been dismissed as a distant dream because the virus is so good at hiding itself. As a retrovirus, HIV splices itself into the host cell’s DNA — meaning it is inextricably linked to the person it has infected.
The infected cell can remain in a latent state, when it is all but undetectable by the body’s defence mechanisms, or it can become active. When activated, the infected cell turns into a factory for making more viral copies, killing the cell in the process. The new copies go out to infect other cells.
Antiretroviral drugs can stop replication, but cannot effectively destroy the HIV. Let’s hope that the next few years of research can do something with Tre recombinase.
Let’s also hope some marketing wiz comes up with a more peppy name. “Fucking miracle,” perhaps?