The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 39 million people were living with HIV by the end of 2022, including adults and children.
Most people living with HIV have an HIV-1 infection (HIV-2 is slow to develop and does not spread as fast). The HIV virus is spread by exchanging body fluids, mainly through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles or syringes, and from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth or breastfeeding.
An HIV-1 infection is dangerous because the virus attacks the immune system, the human cells that defend against infection. It can be fatal without timely medical intervention and lifelong therapy.
Unfortunately, there is still no cure for HIV. One of the main reasons for this is the ability of the virus to mutate constantly, making it challenging to develop a single treatment that can target all strains. Also, some cells infected with HIV can become dormant, only to resurface years later. This is one of the reasons why HIV-infected individuals need treatment for life.
However, there is hope on the horizon with CRISPR.
Using CRISPR to treat HIV
Using CRISPR, scientists are editing out the HIV-infected immune cells in the body, including dormant ones. To achieve this, CRISPR is being used to cut fragments from the DNA of the HIV virus itself, rendering it unable to replicate and spread.
Early progress in this field has shown promising results, with researchers successfully using the CRISPR-Cas system to remove HIV from infected cells in laboratory experiments. However, it is still being studied in clinical trials to understand its effects on HIV-1 infections in humans.
With continued advancements, there is hope that CRISPR technology will lead to a future where HIV can be effectively treated or even cured.