Researchers study possibility of single-injection treatment for HIV

July 5, 2022
Researchers study possibility of single-injection treatment for HIV

Tel Aviv University researchers are experimenting with a one-time vaccine for patients diagnosed with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), using genetically modified white blood cells. A technique developed in the lab of Dr. Adi Barzel – from the school of neurobiology, biochemistry, and biophysics – utilises type B white blood cells tweaked to secrete neutralising antibodies against the target virus in the patient’s body.

According to Dr. Barzel, all model animals who had been administered the vaccine treatment responded well, with high quantities of the desired antibodies formed – the antibodies also successfully neutralised the HIV virus in lab experiments.

Over the last two decades, the lives of many patients with HIV have improved as a result of the administration of treatments that change the disease from lethal to chronic. However, directly manipulating human white blood cells produced in the bone marrow is thought to provide a more thorough and lasting treatment for HIV.

B cells are a type of white blood cells responsible for generating antibodies against viruses, bacteria, and more. When they mature, B cells move into the blood and lymphatic system and from there to the different body parts in response to inflammation and invading pathogens.

The genetic editing of B cells was done using CRISPR, a novel technology based on the bacterial defense mechanism against viruses: bacteria use a sort of molecular “search engine” to locate viral sequences and cuts them out in order to disable them. CRISPR has since been used for genetic modification to either disable unwanted genes or repair and insert desired genes.

“We incorporate the capability of a CRISPR to direct the introduction of genes into desired sites along with the capabilities of viral carriers to bring desired genes to desired cells,” said university postgraduate student Alessio Nehmad. “Thus, we are able to engineer the B cells inside the patient’s body, [using two viral carriers] one carrier codes for the desired antibody and the second carrier codes the CRISPR system. When the CRISPR cuts in the desired site in the genome of the B cells it directs the introduction of the desired gene: the gene coding for the antibody against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.”

An elated Dr. Barzel concluded, “We are utilising the very cause of the disease to combat it [and] if the virus changes, the B cells will also change accordingly to combat it, so we have created the first medication ever that can evolve in the body and defeat viruses in the ‘arms race’.

“Based on this study we can expect that over the coming years we will be able to produce in this way a medication for AIDS, for additional infectious diseases and for certain types of cancer caused by a virus such as cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and more.”

Category: Education, Features

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