Wired has a look at what could be a possible tool in the fight against HIV.? Some humans have a mutation that makes them resistant to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Viruses enter cells and take them over, but to get inside, they need a handhold. HIV pulls itself in by grabbing onto a protein called CCR5, which decorates the surface of T-cells, which are one of the two major types of white blood cells and play an important role in helping the body fight infections. Back in the 1990’s, researchers took interest in a handful of promiscuous gay men who were able to engage in sexual relations with their HIV-positive partners with impunity. Most of them had a mutation that kept their cells from producing normal CCR5 protein.
Armed with that knowledge, scientists have developed several tactics to block the production of CCR5 or perturb its shape so that the HIV virus can’t grab onto it during the first step of its hijacking attempt. The strategy is much akin to cutting your hair before a wrestling match: It gives your opponent one less thing to grab onto.
In the latest version of this defense, Carl June and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania used a highly engineered protein, called a zinc finger nuclease, to clip the CCR5 gene out of some T-cells. Left without the recipe for that protein, the cells are nearly impenetrable. His report appeared on the Nature Biotechnology website yesterday.
The tests were done on mice and there is, at this time, no indication that this technique would work on humans, but scientists are positing that doctors could remove T-cells from infected humans and manipulate the genome, return it to the patient.? Now, already infected patients won’t get rid of HIV/AIDS, but the manipulated T-cells would allow the infected person to raise their white blood cell count and allow them to fight off secondary diseases, which is the downfall for many infected people.
No, this isn’t a cure, but it is another weapon to help eradicate this virus.? Not sure if this technique, which sound costly, would at all be available in African – the one place that needs all the help it can get in their fight against HIV/AIDS.