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Biotech Science

Integrated HIV Successfully Cut Out of Human Genome 185

Posted by Zonk
from the a-little-hunter-killer-nanotech-goes-a-long-way dept.
Chris writes "German scientists have succeeded in snipping HIV out of human cells after it has integrated itself into a patient's DNA. The procedure is a breakthrough in bio-technology and fuels hope of a cure for AIDS. The group is only cautiously optimistic, though, as treating a full-on infection would be substantially different than succeeding in a controlled lab environment. 'Researchers ... began with the bacterial enzyme Cre recombinase, which exchanges any two pieces of DNA flanked on either end by a certain pattern of nucleotides (DNA subunits) known as loxP. HIV does not naturally contain loxP sites, so the team created a hybrid of the two DNA molecules, which they used to select a series of mutated Cre enzymes that were increasingly able to recognize the combined DNA. The final enzyme, Tre, removed all traces of HIV from cultured human cervical cells after about three months, the researchers report online today in Science.'"
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Integrated HIV Successfully Cut Out of Human Genome

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  • Slight Clarification (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday June 29, 2007 @07:49AM (#19687749) Journal
    I read about this in PhysOrg [physorg.com] yesterday and they speak more about something the last paragraph of Scientific American only mentions. The fact that they wouldn't use this enzyme to remove HIV infections but instead to figure out which cells have been infected. The biggest problem in treating HIV is that it can go dormant and undetected for so long during which the host can infect others. It sounds horrible, but even being able to destroy all the cells infected with the virus is worth something though it may often prove fatal to the host. I don't think this is a 'cure' or 'vaccine' merely something that makes HIV treatments much much more effective.
  • Seems like cheating (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday June 29, 2007 @07:50AM (#19687759)

    ...began with the bacterial enzyme Cre recombinase, which exchanges any two pieces of DNA flanked on either end by a certain pattern of nucleotides (DNA subunits) known as loxP.

    HIV does not naturally contain loxP sites, so the team created a hybrid of the two DNA molecules, which they used to select a series of mutated Cre enzymes that were increasingly able to recognize the combined DNA.

    So...this technique won't work at all in the real world. It won't even work with actual HIV even in the lab.

    It's interesting research for its own sake, but in this case it has absolutely nothing to do with HIV. They simply found an interesting way to remove an arbitrary snippet of DNA. In fact, to make it work with HIV, they had to cheat and add tags to the HIV sequence.

    This is like saying I could break into a bank vault after I replaced the lock with one I knew the combination to. It says nothing about the bank, only that I possess the capability to manipulate locks.

  • Proof of concept (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Friday June 29, 2007 @07:54AM (#19687781)
    Think of this as an initial proof-of-concept. Fiddling with DNA is extremely useful - correcting genetic diseases and curing all sorts of viruses that hang out in your cells comes to mind (e.g. herpes). You could even look at curing cancer, since that's typically due to genetic mutations that could be potentially removed, making cells non-cancerous again.

    Eventually, you'll want to be able to recognize and remove longer strands of DNA. I'd also worry about the efficiency - randomly removing strands of DNA from healthy cells is a good way to cause big problems. Existing gene therapies that use viruses to deliver the payload sometimes go astray and cause cancer, which is no good.
  • by asliarun (636603) on Friday June 29, 2007 @08:14AM (#19687949)
    Yes, and I'm happy to see that at least we're making *some* progress. I'm also saddened to see that apart from HIV, there is hardly any research going on to find cures for infectious diseases (TB, Malaria, viral diseases), at least when compared to the obscene amount of money being thrown into chronic or "lifestyle" diseases like diabetes and hypertension. This is all the more disturbing considering that infectious diseases afflict and kill so many more people than chronic diseases. It just so happens that most of the people afflicted happen to be from developing or poor countries, and hence, are not the target market segment for big pharma.

    An interesting idea that I read somewhere proposed the setting up of Ansari-X style rewards or competitions for the company or team that first finds a cure/vaccine for these unfashionable diseases. This also becomes an easy way out for charity foundations like the Gates foundation, who're actually trying to do something meaningful in this field. Instead of giving grants to researchers much like a venture capitalist, perhaps instituting sizable multi-million dollar rewards is a better incentive for researchers. Plus, there is no need to monitor the charity money to make sure that it is being utilized properly. But then again, this might simply be an oversimplified solution to the problem.

  • HIV hybridizes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Breakingpoint (1121971) on Friday June 29, 2007 @08:20AM (#19687999)
    This is a big deal because it shows that this technique which has been used for years to cut out fragments of the genome for replication (via PCR and other methods) could be used to remove the viral elements from a genome. It's a big deal research-wise, but the major problem that will hinder this application from practical application is that HIV hybridizes EXTREMELY fast. Using an artificial bacterial enzyme to remove dna fragments requires a specific nucleotide sequence that it targets. Since HIV "changes appearance" (it actually mutates) at a super accelerated rate (100,000+ faster than animal genome) it makes treating (in this case removing) the virus very difficult. This is the same reason that current HIV treatments are effective at first, but slowly become less and less effective as the virus hybridizes. I'm not sure about needing a different enzyme for every strain of HIV, but that certainly makes sense. I don't claim to be an expert on this topic, but I certainly find it interesting. Just my 2 cents...
  • DNA Spoofing ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joebert (946227) on Friday June 29, 2007 @08:24AM (#19688027) Homepage
    Could this lead to people getting away with murder because they can alter their DNA ?
    Could this lead to people being framed for murder due to spoofed DNA ?

    This sounds like it could destroy the credibility of DNA evidence for high-profile cases in the future.
  • Re:In the shower.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The-Ixian (168184) on Friday June 29, 2007 @08:31AM (#19688085)
    Do you, by any chance, wake up to public radio or similar? I find that sometimes the first 10 minutes or so of what is said on the radio, before I become fully cognizant, gets absorbed into my subconscious so that I think it is weird when I hear the same bit of news later in the day.
  • Re:Proof of concept (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday June 29, 2007 @08:39AM (#19688171)

    Think of this as an initial proof-of-concept. Fiddling with DNA is extremely useful - correcting genetic diseases and curing all sorts of viruses that hang out in your cells comes to mind (e.g. herpes). You could even look at curing cancer, since that's typically due to genetic mutations that could be potentially removed, making cells non-cancerous again.

    No doubt. I definitely think the technique stands on its own as far as coolness factor.

    What I find slightly annoying is the perceived need to validate it by linking it to HIV, which seems completely irrelevant to the actual research since the DNA segment in question could have been anything. Worse yet, it doesn't even recognize HIV at all as the headlines claim - it simply recognizes anchor groups (which HIV does not possess) and removes whatever happens to be between them. Sure, it recognizes HIV that is artificially tagged with these groups, but it would find any DNA sequence tagged with the groups. So what does this research have to do with HIV? Absolutely nothing. Seems like name-dropping to me.

    I realize much of this effect is due to the funding climate in academia, which makes it impossible to get money these days unless you're coat-tailing on a handful of high-profile buzzwords. But I still find over-aggressive promotion of one's results to be distasteful. Naturally, these guys aren't the first and won't be the last.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday June 29, 2007 @09:15AM (#19688571)
    Well, given our "lifestyle" isn't really changing (but actually getting worse), I'd say that soon more people will die due to their "living circumstances" (i.e. unhealthy food and lack of any kind of movement that doesn't require kicking the throttle pedal) than to diseases. If that didn't happen long ago.

    This aside, I would suggest your idea of "money for results" movement, but realize that research ain't something you can do in a garage with a few bucks of your spare money. You first of all have to throw a ton of cash into it before anything sensible comes out of it. I'd rather see that multi million paycheck as the additional carrot in front of their nose, and maybe tied to an incentive to make that cure available not only to the 500 riches people who can afford it, but essentially also to those that need it most and can it afford it least. Like, say, the millions of infected in Africa.
  • by HeroreV (869368) on Friday June 29, 2007 @12:29PM (#19691059) Homepage

    I'm also saddened to see that apart from HIV, there is hardly any research going on to find cures for infectious diseases
    I've never understand how some people can get upset that researchers are looking into one medical problem instead of another. It seems hypocritical if they're also not doing anything to fix whatever problem they're complaining about. (Not specifically you, just people in general.)

    "How dare you work on diabetes when there are children dying of malaria!" says the programmer who is working or neither diabetes nor malaria.
    "We can give a man an erection, but we can't cure cancer?!" says the office worker who has never in his life put any effort towards curing cancer.

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