BY CHIOMA UMEHA
A recent study from Tel Aviv University suggests a novel AIDS treatment that could be developed into a vaccine or used as a one-time treatment for people living with HIV, giving hope in the long-running search for the Human Immune Virus (HIV).
The research examined altering type B white blood cells in the patient's body to release anti-HIV antibodies in response to the virus, according to a report on Friday confirming the ground-breaking cure.
The study, which was carried out in collaboration with the Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), the George S. Wise department of life sciences, and the Dotan Center for Advanced Therapies, was directed by Dr. Adi Barzel and Ph.D. student Alessio Nehmad.
Together with other academics from Israel and the United States, the study was conducted. The results were recently published in the esteemed journal Nature Biotechnology.
The use of medications that have changed AIDS from a fatal to a chronic condition has improved the lives of many people living with the disease over the past 20 years.
But according to the report, "We still have a long way to go before developing a drug that can provide patients with a long-lasting recovery. One practical approach, a one-time injection, was invented by Dr. Barzel's lab. His team developed a technique that uses type B white blood cells that have undergone genetic modification in the patient's body to produce antibodies that are neutralizing to the HIV virus, which is the cause of the disease.
White blood cells called B cells make antibodies against bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. B cells are made in the bone marrow. B cells enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system as they mature before spreading to various body parts.
Dr. Barzel explains, "In this study, we were the first to do this in the body and to make these cells generate desired antibodies. Until now, only a few scientists, and we among them, had been able to engineer B cells outside of the body. Viral carriers derived from viruses that were genetically modified to not inflict harm but only to deliver the gene encoding the antibody into the B cells in the body are used in the genetic engineering.
Additionally, in this instance, we were successful in precisely introducing the antibodies into the B cell genome at the desired location. All model animals that received the treatment responded, and the desired antibody was present in large amounts in their blood. We created the antibody from blood and tested it in a lab dish to make sure it was truly effective at neutralizing the HIV virus.
CRISPR technology was used for the genetic editing. This technology uses the defenses of bacteria against viruses. The CRISPR systems are used by the bacteria as a kind of molecular "search engine" to find viral sequences and cut them in order to render them inoperable.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, two biochemists who had figured out the complex defense mechanism, were able to reroute for the cleavage of any DNA of their choosing.
Since then, the technology has been used to either repair and insert desired genes or disable undesirable genes. When Doudna and Charpentier won the chemistry Nobel Prize in 2020, they gained recognition on a global scale.
The use of CRISPR was further explained by Ph.D. candidate Alessio Nehmad, who said, "We integrate the capability of a CRISPR to direct the introduction of genes into desired sites along with the capability of viral carriers to bring desired genes to desired cells.
As a result, we can modify the B cells that are already present in the patient. We employ two AAV-family viruses, one of which carries the desired antibody and the other of which carries the CRISPR system. The gene coding for an antibody against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, is introduced when the CRISPR system makes the desired cut in the B cells' genome.
Since there is currently no genetic cure for AIDS, the researchers point out that there are numerous research opportunities. "We developed an innovative treatment that may defeat the virus with a one-time injection, with the potential to significantly improve the patients' condition," says Dr. Barzel in his conclusion.
We are utilizing the very cause of the disease to fight it by stimulating and encouraging the engineered B cells to divide when they come into contact with the virus. We have developed the first ever drug that can evolve in the body and defeat viruses in the "arms race" because if the virus changes, the B cells will also change accordingly to combat it.
"Based on this study, we can expect to be able to produce in the coming years 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," he added.