German scientists have developed a new method of attacking the HIV virus as it stands today. Based in Dresden & Hamburg, the researchers who have been conducting animal trials using mice, have been developing an enzyme which they define as a type of cell-scissor which would essentially cut the HIV virus out of the DNA every time it tries to replicate itself.
Once HIV enters the body, it integrates itself immediately into the human DNA. HIV replicates itself inside the DNA and goes on to severely compromise the sufferers immune system. It must therefore be constantly controlled by medication to block it from being able to replicate. The medications are not only taken everyday but can often be hard on the body and need to be changed regularly.
The researchers led by Frank Buchholz from TU Dresden (Technical University Dresden) and Joachim Hauber from the Heinrich-Pete-Institute in Hamburg state that after ‘cutting’ the active virus from the cells, they are effectively able to dismantle the virus from the inside.
The scientists claim they have developed a process which involves changing and re-inserting an enzyme which specifically targets the strands of DNA which contain the HIV virus itself. The enzyme (named by the researchers as Recombinase) inserts itself into the DNA, and removes the virus from within and then fuses the DNA structure back together.
According to the researchers, the enzyme Recombinase Brec 1 can recognise more than 90% of the known HIV-Variations. Of the 37-Million infected HIV people worldwide, the researchers estimate that Recombinase is able to recognise and attack more than 28-Million of the active known HIV virus types.
The method involves extracting stem cells from those infected with HIV and then in a laboratory placing the enzyme into the DNA. Once the DNA is put back into the body the stem cells are able to replicate inside the body passing on Recombinase throughout, essentially cutting out the HIV virus wherever it may be. Once the HIV virus re-enters cells, the enzyme will already be there — thus meaning the ‘scissors’ are able to actively seek and destroy the virus every time it tries to replicate.
The immune system of the HIV-infected patient is then able to gradually strengthen itself to a healthy level, hopefully that of a non-infected person.
Though there have been side-effects in previous trials (one study in children with genetic disorders ended in the unwanted and sometimes fatal activation of cancer cells), the researchers are confident that the genetic vectors (cells that carry the genes in the body) in this enzyme are different to those previously studied and would not be problem in this treatment. There is also a possibility that when two active HIV-Cells are nested close together in the genome, that non-infected parts of the human genome could be separated out. Though the researchers believe that this is unlikely.
The researchers in Hamburg and Dresden are currently planning a study. It is however extremely expensive and they are currently searching for investors to help with the project. As it stands, that without the needed funding this study will never come to fruition. If it does go ahead, and indeed passes the testing period – it could still be years until this is approved for proper medical use.