Israeli scientists have in a breakthrough developed a unique genetic treatment for AIDS which may be developed into a vaccine or a one time cure for patients with HIV.
The team from Tel Aviv University focussed on the engineering of type B white blood cells in the patient’s body so as to secrete anti-HIV antibodies in response to the virus.
The one time injection technique utilises type B white blood cells that would be genetically engineered, using CRISPR, the gene editing technology, inside the patient’s body to secrete neutralising antibodies against the HIV virus that causes the disease, they described in the paper published in the journal Nature.
B cells are a type of white blood cells responsible for generating antibodies against viruses, bacteria and more. B cells are formed in bone marrow. When they mature, B cells move into the blood and lymphatic system and from there to the different body parts.
“Until now, only a few scientists, and 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 to make these cells generate desired antibodies,” said Dr. Adi Barzel from the varsity.
Barzel explained that 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 coded 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. 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 neutralising the HIV virus in the lab dish,” Barzel added.
Currently, the researchers explained, there is no genetic treatment for AIDS, so the research opportunities are vast.
The innovative treatment was developed to defeat the virus with a one-time injection, with the potential of bringing about tremendous improvement in the patients’ condition.
“When the engineered B cells encounter the virus, the virus stimulates and encourages them to divide, so we are utilising the very cause of the disease to combat it. Furthermore, if the virus changes, the B cells will also change accordingly in order to combat it, so we have created the first medication ever that can evolve in the body and defeat viruses in the ‘arms race’,” Barzel said.
“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.”