Breakthrough in HIV, DNA-editing
*Scientists discover antibody that neutralizes 98% strains of virus
• Uncovers ‘holy grail’ to fix genes to cure incurable diseases, blindness, even extends lifespan
Scientists have discovered an antibody that can neutralize 98 percent of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) strains.
The strength and dynamism of the antibody – known as N6 – means it could be developed and re-purposed to treat and prevent HIV infections.
Remarkably, the research team at the United States (U.S.) National Institutes of Health has found N6 can neutralize 16 of the 20 strains, which have so far resisted all kinds of medication.
It is the most promising discovery to date after decades of failed attempts to neutralize the virus, which rapidly changes its surface proteins to evade recognition.
Also, scientists have discovered how to edit Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material to repair ‘broken genes’ to cure incurable diseases – and potentially extend human lifespan.
Until now, it has not been possible to alter genes in the brain, heart, liver and eyes – the root of many debilitating illnesses.
Since the cells in these vital organs tend not to divide, it is difficult to gain access to make changes.
However, researchers at the Salk Institute claim to have landed on ‘the holy grail of gene editing’, which can delicately and smoothly cut through DNA.
So far the technique, called HITI, has been used to successfully restore blindness in lab mice.
Meanwhile, the last time HIV researchers made such a strong leap in the field was in 2010, with the discovery of an antibody called VRC01.
VRCO1 can stop up to 90 percent of HIV strains from infecting human cells.
It works in the same way as N6: both block the virus by binding to a part of the HIV enveloped called the CD4 binding site.
This prevents the virus from attaching itself to immune cells. However, N6 can better tolerate changes in the HIV envelope.
For example, one of the key ways HIV evades the immune system is by gathering and attaching sugars, which tend to loosen the antibody’s grip. N6, however, is not affected by this change.
The findings, revealed in a report on Wednesday, have emerged as scientists continue to test N6 as an intravenous infusion in clinical trials to see if it can safely prevent HIV infection in humans.
Due to its potency, N6 may offer stronger and more durable prevention and treatment benefits, and researchers may be able to administer it subcutaneously (into the fat under the skin) rather than intravenously.
In addition, its ability to neutralize nearly all HIV strains would be advantageous for both prevention and treatment strategies.
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