Researchers tell CNBC they have for the first time shown "that the HIV disease is a curable disease" A study published Tuesday in Nature Communications details how they got to such a statement: essentially by putting the brakes on HIV's spread in mice and then editing it out of their DNA. Scientists with Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center used what CNN describes as a "slow-release virus suppression drug" and CRISPR gene-editing technology on infected "humanized" mice: ones manipulated to produce human T cells that are susceptible to HIV infection. From there, they used a stepped-up kind of antiretroviral therapy, or ART, which is what current HIV patients take to curtail the virus' spread.
In this case, the mice were treated with LASER ART (long-acting, slow-effective release ART), and those HIV cells that lingered were removed from the mice's DNA using CRISPR-Cas9. Gizmodo explains the logic: "Using a gene-editing tool like CRISPR to clear out an infectious disease may seem strange, but HIV is a retrovirus that embeds itself within DNA as a means to replicate." ART can keep HIV from replicating, "but it can’t eliminate every trace of the disease, as it’s not capable of purging cells in which the virus has gone dormant." Nine of the 23 mice had their HIV eliminated, but any human trials aren't imminent: Getting to this point took years, and the results of a primate study that's underway could be a year off. "We're landing on the moon," said Dr. Howard Gendelman of UNMC. "It doesn't mean you made it to Mars yet." (Read more HIV stories.)