Gene therapy could provide a much needed alternative in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Scientists in California have shown that a single injection of an HIV-neutralizing antibody into the muscle cells of live mice completely protected the animals against HIV transmission. “Two of the antibodies, called b12 and VRC01, proved completely protective—even when the mice received doses of HIV that were 100 times higher than a natural infection.” After 52 weeks, the level of antibodies remained high, suggesting prolonged protection against HIV.
What’s the Big Idea?
Creating an HIV/AIDS vaccine has proven difficult because the virus has managed to disguise most of the easily-recognised external structures that antibodies would target. So gene therapy, which recruits muscle cells to act as antibody factories, could provide a much needed alternative treatment. But researchers recognize their are some additional associated risks: “Because the antibody DNA is permanently inserted into the genome, there’s no way to turn it off if someone has an immune reaction against the antibodies. But it won’t be known whether such side effects exist until the method is tested in people.”