CRISPR is Used for the First Time to Attempt to Eliminate HIV in a Patient

Since before CRISPR became an acronym people might know, centered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat is, Dr. Chris Blazier, a researcher at Texas A&M University says, ” part of the bacterial immune system that allows bacteria to remember viruses that have previously attacked them.” Scientists have used CRISPR to target and remove the viral genes, sort of cut-and-pasting their way to healthy DNA. As Time magazine explained, “CRISPR’s power lies in the fact that its precise enough to find and cut out just the viral genes, leaving the animals’ own DNA intact.”

ABOVE: CRISPR-Cas9 has ignited a revolution. CRISPR has enabled a simple and affordable way to manipulate and edit DNA, completely changing the face of genome engineering. The applications of this technology are limitless. Researchers are working on new ways to cure diseases such as cancer, blindness, and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are also using CRISPR to develop more sustainable methods for producing fuel and manufacturing chemicals, and to improve food crops so we can better feed the growing global population.

It immediately caught the attention of HIV researchers and those developing treatments, especially when  a study by the University of California, Berkeley found that “10 new CRISPR enzymes that, once activated, are said to ‘behave like Pac-Man’ to chew through RNA in a way that could be used as sensitive detectors of infectious viruses.”

Could this be the gene therapy long theorized but unsubstantiated as the way that we would eradicate HIV? 

The answer was suggested by the identification of new enzymes—variants of a CRISPR protein, Cas13a—which, the UC Berkeley researchers reported in Nature, could be used to detect specific sequences of RNA, such as from a virus. The team showed that once CRISPR-Cas13a binds to its target RNA, it begins to indiscriminately cut up all RN

Doctors could pick up that signal and pinpoint the cancer cells. And if that proved possible than the same technique could theortically eliminate HIV from a body. It goes without saying there was a great deal of excitement.

And now a team of Chinese scientists have employed the CRISPR protein Cas13a, on the HIV virus in a  27-year-old patient whose  prospects weren’t promising. In May 2016, he found out he had AIDS. Two weeks later, he was told he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

But doctors offered the Chinese citizen a ray of hope: a bone marrow transplant to treat his cancer and an extra experimental treatment to try to rid his system of HIV, according to a new paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
This involved using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to delete a gene known as CCR5 from bone marrow stem cells taken from a donor, before transplanting them into the patient, Peking University scientists said in the study.

“After being edited, the cells — and the blood cells they produce — have the ability to resist HIV infection,” lead scientist Deng Hongkui told CNN Friday.


WEB MD said, “[This is ] is the first published report of trying to use CRISPR to treat a disease in an adult.

Even though CRISPR did not cure the patient’s HIV infection, the gene-editing tool appears precise and safe in the patient and appears to hold promise, said Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania genetics expert who wrote an accompanying commentary in the journal.

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