The Molecules of HIV

Note: this site last updated in 2006

Induce a protective mutation

An article from "The Molecules of HIV" (c) Dan Stowell

It has been known for a while that certain mutations of the human genome (such as the delta32 mutation) can bring resistance to HIV infection. It would be very difficult to produce such a mutation "artificially" in a person. But some progress is being made.

In 2005, researchers discovered a method for changing the genetic code inside a cell, using a mixture of enzymes designed to target a specific patch of the genetic code and corrupt it. Other proteins in the cell will then repair the genetic damage - and although in some cases the code returns to normal, occasionally the proteins mis-repair the genome and a mutation or deletion can result. If the enzymes are designed with the right sort of targetting, then a protective mutation such as the delta32 mutation could be the result.

This process relies on a type of protein shape called a zinc finger.

How effective might this therapy be? It's too early yet to tell. But one clever aspect of the technique is that it doesn't need to change all of your immune cells. Even if just a small proportion of immune cells become immune to HIV, these cells can survive and replicate, and in a process of natural selection, replace the non-immune cells which eventually die off.

Research is ongoing. Scientists need to ensure that the process doesn't cause any other, unwanted DNA damage, before it can get to the stage of clinical trials.

More information:

  • Fyodor D. Urnov, Jeffrey C. Miller, Ya-Li Lee, Christian M. Beausejour, Jeremy M. Rock, Sheldon Augustus, Andrew C. Jamieson, Matthew H. Porteus, Philip D. Gregory and Michael C. Holmes (2005) Highly efficient endogenous human gene correction using designed zinc-finger nucleases. Nature 435, 646-651

Written by
Dan Stowell

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