Chinese scientists use gene editing on HIV patient for the first time

Chinese scientists use gene editing on HIV patient for the first time

PanARMENIAN.Net - The 27-year-old patient's prospects were bleak. In May 2016, he found out he had AIDS. Two weeks later, he was told he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

But doctors offered the Chinese citizen a ray of hope: a bone marrow transplant to treat his cancer and an extra experimental treatment to try to rid his system of HIV, according to a new paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine, CNN reports.

This involved using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to delete a gene known as CCR5 from bone marrow stem cells taken from a donor, before transplanting them into the patient, Peking University scientists said in the study.

"After being edited, the cells -- and the blood cells they produce -- have the ability to resist HIV infection," lead scientist Deng Hongkui said Friday, September 13.

People who carry defective copies of CCR5 are highly immune to HIV, because the virus uses a protein made by this gene to gain entry into an infected person's cells. Two men, known as the Berlin patient and the London patient, became the first people in the world to be cured of HIV after receiving bone marrow transplants from donors who had the mutation naturally.

The patient agreed and the experiment was carried out in the summer of 2017. It was the first time CRISPR-Cas9 was used on a HIV patient. In early 2019, a full 19 months after the treatment was administered, "the acute lymphoblastic leukemia was in complete remission and donor cells carrying the ablated CCR5 persisted," the scientists said in the paper.

But there weren't enough of them to eradicate the HIV virus in the patient's body. After transplantation, only approximately 5% to 8% of the patient's bone marrow cells carried the CCR5 edit, according to the researchers. "In the future, further improving the efficiency of gene-editing and optimizing the transplantation procedure should accelerate the transition to clinical applications," said Deng.

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