Australian scientists may have hit upon a form a gene therapy that could lead to a cure for AIDS, causing the HIV virus to 'self-destruct.'
Queensland Institute of Medical Research researchers discovered a technique that changes how the HIV virus replicates in the body, creating a mutated form of the virus, the Australian Times reported.
Dr. David Harrich's team saw a breakthrough in 2007, when they discovered that the mutated HIV virus, known as Nullbasic, could block the process, called reverse transcription, that allows HIV to damage the immune system.
"With money running out, I had my PhD student try one more experiment in late 2007," Harrich told the Times. "The experiment was to test if Nullbasic could render HIV non-infectious. The student came back and said it worked, so I told him to do it again and again and again. It works every time.”
Then backed by funding from the Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis research, Harrich's team was able to continue to test the theory that his Nullbasic gene therapy could block the exponential replication of the HIV virus.
"That study showed very clearly that it could protect human cells from HIV infection," Harrich said. "Subsequently we have protected primary human CD lymphocytes from blood from HIV infection using a gene therapy approach with outstanding results.”
The increasing level of HIV, which becomes AIDS, cripples the immune system and leaves the infected individual susceptible to minor infections that their bodies would otherwise have no trouble fighting.
The results of their research were recently published in a paper laying out the team's findings based on success in laboratory experiments.
Harrich plans to start testing on mice this year, but the process to get FDA approval for treatment on humans could take as long as a decade.