MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

HIV virus could be used to fight against HIV with new "cut and paste" technology

Researchers from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University recently successfully altered HIV virus particles so that they can possibly repair genomes in a new way, which could help treat both hereditary diseases and certain viral infections.

The HIV particles were altered in order to "cut and paste" genetic information in the human genome.

"Now we can simultaneously cut out the part of the genome that is broken in sick cells, and patch the gap that arises in the genetic information which we have removed from the genome," Jacob Giehm Mikkelson, an associate professor from Aarhus University, said. "The new aspect here is that we can bring the scissors and the patch together in the HIV particles in a fashion that no one else has done before."

The research team was also able to develop a technique that increases the safety of the cutting process.

"In the past, the gene for the scissors has been transferred to the cells, which is dangerous because the cell keeps on producing scissors which can start cutting uncontrollable," Mikkelsen said. "But because we make the scissors in the form of a protein, they only cut for a few hours, after which they are broken down. And we ensure that the virus particle also brings along a small piece of genetic material to patch the hole."

The process is fast and leaves no traces, which has earned it the moniker of the "hit-and-run" technique.

Years of research revealed that HIV particles have the ability to be converted into transporters of genetic information. They were shown to be able to transport proteins not normally found in the cells, which alters the virus particles into nanoparticles that can carry substances that will directly affect treated cells.

Protein scissors may be able to stop a specific gene from functioning, which could be useful in the treatment of HIV infection.

"By altering relevant cells in the immune system (T cells) we can make them resistant to HIV infection and perhaps even at the same time also equip them with genes that help fight HIV." Yujia Cai, a postdoc and Ph. D. of the research team, said. "So in this way HIV can in time become a tool in the fight against HIV."

The results of the research were published in eLIFE.