Scientists may have developed gene therapy that effectively prevents AIDS. But HIV may
have mutated to bypass the new defenses. Gah, HIV, you are such a piece of sh-
Hello viewers, I hope you’re healthy and well out there, Julian here for DNews. Researchers
at the Scripps Research Institute believe they are on track to a gene therapy that will
effectively render most strains of HIV impotent.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus works by targeting CD4+ T Cells, which are white blood
cells that play a key role in your adaptive immune system - that’s the part that helps
you fight infections. HIV latches onto them by grabbing onto the CD4 protein on the T
cell’s surface, and then clamping down on another receptor called CCR5. Once it’s
in position, it inserts its own RNA into the cell, tricking it into making more viruses.
It basically turns the good guy cells into zombies. Once enough T Cells are turned, the
infected person’s immune system is compromised and vulnerable and they have Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
Unfortunately no effective vaccine has been developed yet. The problem with retroviruses
like HIV is they change and adapt quickly. It’s like whack-a-mole with the deadliest
mole ever. And of course there are many strands, so a vaccine against one strand probably won’t
be effective against others. Now though scientists think they’re on to something.
Dr. Michael Farzan and other researchers say they’ve created a tiny strand of DNA which,
when injected into muscle tissue, stimulates the cells to synthesize a claw-shaped protein.
For proteins, shapes are everything, and this claw is HIV’s worst nightmare. It’s simple
enough that even if the virus changes, it likely won’t be able to shake the claw.
The protein works by latching on to the CD4 and CCR5 binding sites on the virus, leaving
it adrift and unable to latch on to T Cells. If it can’t latch on, it can’t replicate.
Eventually it’s broken down and disposed of harmlessly.
This isn’t just some flash in the test tube either. They’ve already been testing this
on 4 monkeys by giving them the gene therapy and then injecting them with a strain of HIV
for lab monkeys, called the Simian/Human Immunodeficiency Virus. After nearly a year, the Macaques are
A-OK. Now they’re looking to treat infected monkeys to see if it can stop the virus from
If that’s a success, they’re looking to begin human trials. Don’t worry, they won’t
be injecting humans with HIV to test it, they’ll be giving the protein and gene to those either
with HIV or those at high risk.
As always, nothing is guaranteed until it happens, but it looks promising. Of course,
the world being what it is, researchers in Cuba believe they have found a new strain
of HIV that skips the CCR5 bonding site and goes straight for the one known as CXCR4.
Normally HIV transitions to the CXCR4 protein after years, during which time the host is
relatively healthy. Once it switches though the descent to AIDS begins. This new strand,
which researchers believe is the combination of several other HIV subtypes, fast tracks
AIDS leading to earlier death. It’s no more infectious than its predecessors, but it might
render this new treatment ineffective.
So, one step forward and one step back? But keeping things on the positive tip - if scientists
can keep that new strain from spreading, then we may have an effective treatment for all
the other variants of HIV in the pipeline. One day HIV may be some terrifying disease
that only exists in history books and memories, like polio is to our grandparents. I hope
I’m around to see that day.
While this isn’t technically a vaccine, I’m sure the public will think of it as
such and of course, there will be skeptics. Here to say once again that vaccines do not
cause autism is Trace, because apparently that still needs to be said. check it out
What’s your reaction to the news? Hopeful? Skeptical? What are your reasons? Let us know
in the comments and I’ll see you next time on DNews.