HIV is a retrovirus, which means it is one of RNA viruses which insert a DNA copy of their genome into the host cell in order to replicate and thus quietly stag inside the host cells to infect them. Now scientists have found a new genome-editing technique which can eliminate HIV virus from a human cell. This could eventually be the most effective technique for HIV treatment.

Developed by Kamel Khalili and Wenhui Hu of Temple University, the technique itself works like the retrovirus which means it uses RNA to program the cell to replicate it; but to different ends, rather than inserting a DNA of their genome, the RNA goes straight for the HIV which is then used to reprogram the cell to remove what HIV has coded into it.

The researchers used Cas9/guide RNA (gRNA) system that targets the cell and detects the HIV genetic code in order to excise copies of integrated HIV genome from T-cells (image below)and other immune cells such as microglial and promonocytic. The technique seems to prevent any new HIV infection and could completely eradicate the HIV from the cell as it had never existed.

“We found that [the therapy] eradicates the HIV-1 genome and effectively immunizes target cells against HIV-1 reactivation and infection with high specificity and efficiency,” Khalili wrote in PNAS.

“These properties may provide a viable path toward a permanent or ‘sterile’ HIV-1 cure, and perhaps provide a means to eradicate and vaccinate against other pathogenic viruses.”

As the research is still new, I could see sparking discussion of practicability of this technique on human. Deleting genetic code rather than the one that has been coded by HIV could result in serious problems.

So, the current methods are too inefficient and prone to adverse off-target effects. But once this complication has been solved, this genome-editing technique could be a giant step towards finding actual cure for HIV; and hopefully, without a doubt, we could boastfully say “Yes” when someone asks – “Can you get rid of HIV if caught early?”