Zinc fingers bring HIV therapy a step closer

New York (PTI): A potential therapy for HIV could soon become a reality, if scientists are to be believed. In their ground-breaking study, a team at Pennsylvania University made laboratory rodents HIV resistant by sabotaging a gene in blood cells that the deadly virus normally infects, the ‘Nature Biotechnology’ journal reported.

In fact, they altered the gene which makes CCR5 by using a harmless virus to sneak a molecule — a zinc-finger nuclease — into the cells. With the help of zinc fingers, they found they could help reduce the viral load of immune deficient rodents injected with engineered T-cells.

"By inducing mutations in the CCR5 gene using zinc finger proteins, we’ve reduced the expression of CCR5 surface proteins on T-cells, which is necessary for the AIDS virus to enter these immune system cells. "This approach stops the AIDS virus from entering the T-cells because it now has an introduced error into the CCR5 gene," Elena Perez, one of the study authors, was quoted by the journal as saying.

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The researchers hope to test the therapy on humans by this year-end. "If successful, the treatment could offer a more effective way for controlling HIV in patients with the disease," according to them.

In human trials, they intend to extract T-cells from HIV-infected patients, treat them in the lab to alter the gene that makes CCR5, then return them to the bloodstream. The hope is that because these cells are resistant to HIV as they multiply they will become the dominant type within the body. They could then provide longer-term protection than drugs that deny HIV access to cells by blocking the molecules.

"What’s really exciting is that the change in the genome is permanent, and inherited by all ‘daughter’ T-cells created when the altered T-cells multiply," Philip Gregory, another researcher, said.

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