Researchers at Tel Aviv University have published encouraging test results of a procedure that could lead to a one-time treatment for patients with HIV.

The study was led by Adi Barzel, Ph.D., and Ph.D. student Alessio Nehmad of the school of neurobiology, biochemistry and biophysics at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Dotan Center for Advanced Therapies, in collaboration with Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, and additional researchers in Israel and the United States.

The treatment involves the use of the CRISPR system to cut and edit the genetics of white blood cells to create type-B white blood cells that are responsible for generating antibodies against viruses.

The CRISPR system is used to locate viral sequences and cut them to disable them, in this case, genetically engineering type-B blood cells inside a patient’s body to secrete neutralizing antibodies against the HIV virus.

“Until now, only a few scientists—we among them—had been able to engineer B cells outside of the body. And in this study, we were the first to do this in the body and make these cells generate desired antibodies,” said Barzel in a news release. “The genetic engineering is done with viral carriers derived from viruses that were engineered so as not to cause damage but only to bring the gene coding for the antibody into the B cells in the body.”

“Additionally, in this case, we have been able to accurately introduce the antibodies into a desired site in the B cell genome,” he continued. “All model animals who had been administered the treatment responded and had high quantities of the desired antibody in their blood. We produced the antibody from the blood and made sure it was actually effective in neutralizing the HIV virus in the lab dish.”

The study was published in the science journal, Nature, and is a potential long-sought-after solution to curing HIV. In the past decade, the lives of many AIDS patients have improved, changing the disease from lethal to chronic.

According to Barzel, based on the study, researchers expect that over the coming years, they would be able to use the method to produce medication for AIDS and other infectious diseases, including certain types of cancer caused by a virus such as cervical, neck and head cancer.


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