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Can Gene Editing Stop HIV?

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(Image: Getty Images)

As technology continues to expand so does the potential of helping those that are suffering from diseases world wide. The impacts of science and technology on the medical field continue to change the way we live and get treatments for various illnesses. The big and scary diseases like cancer and HIV still cause a lot of strain on millions of people, but perhaps new breakthroughs in science could one day address those concerns. Can gene editing stop HIV?  Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the  Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

Animal testing in science is often a controversial topic. A cutting-edge gene editing technique, known as CRISPr-Cas9, has also been a controversial topic. However, some recent news involving these topics is giving scientists a hopeful look at the future.

A team of researches just announced that by using CRISPralongside a potent HIV suppressant they have nearly eradicated HIV from cells in mice and has thus prevented it from spreading through the body as well. 

This experiment required three different approaches. First they tested on cells in a lab just to see if they could in fact edit these cells to shut down HIV when not in a living system. Then they infected mice with HIV to see if they could edit the genes in a living system. Lastly the mice were given human cells that contained HIV.

In all three cases, the CRISPr gene editing plan enhanced the ability to reduce the virus' presence and ability to replicate. In fact, in 9 of the 23 mice included in the study, the virus was undetectable as much as 8 weeks after treatments ended.

This was the preliminary test and much more work is needed to better understand how this would have impacts on the living system beyond this experiment, in things such as monkeys or even humans. Right now over 36 million people currently have HIV.  This seemingly unstoppable disease has caused much suffering in patients and for their loved ones as well.

At the end of 2018 there was a pretty huge story that made headlines all across the globe. A researcher claimed to have birthed the first human baby that had edited genes, to prevent HIV from ever being able to exist in that body. Those headlines were soon examined and unfortunately debunked as a hoax. That news story highlights how important the intersection of health and science are. The research on the mice has been peer reviewed and is a real first step towards the goal of finding a cure for what we currently know are unstoppable diseases.

While gene editing technology continues to draw skepticism, breakthroughs like these show promise that with enough research, funding, and community support science may be able to help people that currently have no hope for long term solutions. More research will continue, stay tuned as details on this develop.


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