The battle of medicine against various diseases and conditions is continuous and not always victorious, at least temporary. One of these battles is the one against the HIV virus, a very tough opponent that has managed to “outsmart” every single one of our efforts to defeat it yet. Unfortunately, the virus has managed to neutralize our latest weapon against it as well.
It was only a few weeks ago when a team of researchers from the Temple University of the United Kingdom used a method called CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing to remove the virus from infected cells of the human immune system. This is possible by combining a DNA sequence that scientists extract from a specific type of bacteria with Cas 9, an enzyme guided by RNA. As soon as this combination enters an infected cell, it has the ability to search and remove the HIV sequence. In fact, results from studies on human T cells showed that the cells gained some sort of immunity to reinfection.
In a stunning turn of events, the virus mutated within a matter of two weeks and managed to evolve and make the aforementioned method obsolete. But that’s not all. There are also indications that the mutation the virus goes through in order to block its removal makes it stronger than before. So not only the whole procedure has nothing positive to offer, but it has the opposite outcome of the one we hoped for.
Medical scientists and researchers are no strangers to HIV’s ability to evolve and eliminate the actions of every drug that has been tried against it so far. The best thing that has been accomplished is suppressing it and placing it in a dormant state. But, as soon as the patients stop taking the necessary medication, the virus resumes its activity.
The very quick reaction time is what surprised the experts. It usually takes way more than two weeks for such a fundamental change to take place, but this time, the HIV virus managed to set some kind of unpleasant record.
However, this should not be considered a defeat but, instead, a valuable lesson and an opportunity to gather more information than we already have. Dr Liang, a member of the research team that succeeded in developing and completing the gene editing technique, mentioned that in the near future, scientists will be able to attack the HIV sequences in more than one places at the same time, making it way more difficult for the virus to adapt to such an action.
We hope that this day will come soon. It will be a day when yet another devastating disease is defeated by science.