Posted on Oct 01, 2019, 1 p.m.
Recent research from the University of California may have discovered a potential new target in the battle against HIV; testing may have identified a cellular switch that can be turned off to clear out the dormant virus inside of cells.
Those who have contracted the virus currently have to undergo lifelong antiretroviral therapy to suppress the symptoms and keep the infection from further developing into AIDS. While this is not a cure, it is a step in the right direction, but this also means that the virus can remain laying dormant inside of cells at the ready to start multiplying again if treatment lapses.
The UCSD discovery is another step closer to a cure, the particular RNA molecule appears to be elevated in those infected with the virus, and cultured testing indicates that silencing or removing the RNA molecule can prevent the virus from recurring after antiretroviral therapy has stopped.
1ncRNA doesn’t encode for proteins, rather it helps control switching genes on/off within a cell, this particular long non-coding RNA molecule has been dubbed HIV-1 Enhanced LncRNA, or HEAL for short, and this gene appears to have emerged recently regulating HIV replication in immune cells.
“This is one of the key switches that the HIV field has been searching for three decades to find,” says Tariq Rana, an author of the study. “The most exciting part of this discovery has not been seen before. By genetically modifying a long noncoding RNA, we prevent HIV recurrence in T cells and microglia upon cessation of antiretroviral treatment, suggesting that we have a potential therapeutic target to eradicate HIV and AIDS.”
In laboratory testing HEAL was either silenced or snipped out of human immune cell genomes using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology; in both experiments HIV did not re-emerge after antiretroviral therapy had stopped.
“Our results suggest that HEAL plays a critical role in HIV pathogenesis,” says Rana. “Further studies are needed to explain the mechanism that leads to HEAL expression after an individual is infected by HIV, but this finding could be exploited as a therapeutic target.”
As published in the journal mBio this approach is still new and under development, meaning much more research is required starting with first moving to testing in experimental animals, even still it remains an interesting new path to investigate as a potential cure.
This is not the only new avenue being investigated, earlier this year the new LASER ART antiretroviral therapy designed to suppress the virus to then be snipped out using CRISPR technology was observed to work effectively to cure mice with the infection. In other news stem cells put a man into long term remission for the second time, but this treatment was dangerous and painful thus not likely to be recommended in its current form.
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