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Russian scientists find way of protecting human embryos from HIV

Russian scientists find way of protecting human embryos from HIV
Russian biologists have made a major breakthrough after altering the DNA of human embryos to make them more resilient to HIV. A similar technique can be used on pregnant HIV-positive women to protect unborn babies.

A newly released study claims human embryos can become more resistant to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) if they have their DNA hacked in just the right way. Molecular biologists in Moscow say removing a CCR5 receptor (a protein on the surface of white blood cells) from the cells of HIV-positive patients helps their immediate recovery. 

“Removing the CCR5 receptor or its modifications… have already shown promising results in treating the HIV infection,” the study says. It adds that a similar technique can be used on pregnant HIV-positive women to protect their unborn children.

CCR5 is the main receptor used by strains of HIV that are responsible for viral transmission.

Over the past few years, physicians and virologists have noticed that HIV made unusually little impact on some patients whose bodies managed to get rid the virus on their own. In all of these cases, viral particles still remained in the bodies of the patients, but they were either unable to reproduce, or “kept a low profile” for several years.

Mutations in these patients’ genes made them virtually immune to many types of HIV. This led scientists to copy these genes for the purposes of finding a workable way of dealing with the disease.

With more than 36 million people suffering from HIV globally, a panacea for the immune-system-corroding virus remains elusive. But recent tests on macaques, a species of monkey, have provided hope that a HIV vaccine can still be found.

READ MORE: Fake doctor in India infects dozens of patients with HIV using 1 syringe

In 2016, the Maryland-based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases revealed that a single antibody injection targeting HIV had kept test monkeys free from the disease for up to six months. The antibodies were reportedly developed from a human infected with the virus.

However, while positive steps have been made, tackling the infection is an uphill struggle, given the complexity of HIV.

“HIV is a highly mutable virus, and has many identified subtypes,” Dr Bridget Haire, president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, told RT. “It mutates so much that the HIV in a given individual is slightly different to that in another. It’s not known whether one vaccine could protect against all variants.”

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