A Revolutionary Experimental Treatment for HIV
A Revolutionary Experimental
Treatment for HIV
Timothy Brown was diagnosed with leukemia and was given an experimental bone marrow transplant to treat his condition. He had lived with HIV for ten years and when he received the bone marrow transplant he became HIV free. The bone marrow donor had a natural immunity to HIV. Brown’s case has given the scientific community more hope in finding a cure to HIV. Using a bone marrow transplant as a cure for HIV/AIDS is not a common practice currently because natural immunity to HIV is very rare. This rarity means that there is a limited supply of stem cells containing the gene for HIV immunity. The case of Timothy Brown gave hope to researchers and patients alike.
What is HIV?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a disease that attacks the immune system by invading crucial cells in the immune system like white blood cells and T-cells. The HIV virus kills the cells that it infects. The virus is unable to duplicate correctly and go through a programmed cell death, or apoptosis. T-Cells, the important cells of the immune system, become infected and die. Without T cells, the body is unprotected. Because of this their compromised immune systems, HIV patients usually die from opportunistic diseases that the body would normally be able to overcome. Patients who get treatment in the early stages of the disease may live decades with this disease. Early detection of HIV plays a key role in the treatment of the disease. It is recommended that every time there is even the slightest chance that a person could become infected with HIV they should get tested. Currently, there is only one treatment option that is in use, but there is another option in the testing stage that could improve the life expectancy and quality of life.
One popular treatment option available today is Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). HAART is an assortment of antiviral drugs taken together to attack the virus at different stages in the lifecycle of the virus. The lifecycle is only about 1.5 days. Each case of HIV is different, so medication combinations need to be tailored for specific patients. Once HAART is started, it becomes a lifelong treatment. The combination of medications may change over time as drug resistance is developed. Some common side effects of HAART are fatigue, headache, liver problems, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and poor appetite. This treatment can add years to a patient’s life but does not cure the disease, the treatment helps boost the immune system to fend off opportunistic diseases. Treatments like RNAi and a HIV vaccine are being researched. Unlike the research on finding a vaccine, RNAi or RNA interference treatment is in the stage where it can be implemented in treatment.
What is RNAi?
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains all the genes that code for whom a person is, from what color eyes they have to how tall they are, and DNA is double stranded. When a cell wants to “express” its DNA, or make proteins, the DNA is copied into mRNA. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is single stranded and contains instructions for making proteins. In order for proteins to be made, mRNA needs to leave the nucleus (the part of the cell where the DNA is stored). The mRNA leaves the nucleus and is intercepted by RNAi. RNAi or interference RNA is a type of RNA that the body uses to protect the body against viruses.
RNAi checks each mRNA that leaves the nucleus and recognizes when an mRNA does not appear normal. RNAi binds to the abnormal mRNA and destroys it. Sometimes the abnormal mRNA looks like a mirror image of what the regular mRNA should look like, or sometimes it is just slightly changed. RNAi destroys the mRNA by cutting the strand and destabilizing it so the strand falls apart. If the mRNA falls apart the protein that it coded for is unable to be produced. This stops the spread of viruses because a virus uses the machinery of the cell to make copies of itself so that, the virus, so it can spread throughout the body.
RNAi is not very stable, because it is single stranded instead of double stranded like DNA. It cannot travel a large distance in the body until it falls apart. Like the HAART treatment, the RNAi treatment would be a lifelong treatment plan to hold the virus at bay. Unlike HAART, this treatment would be taken intravenously. Scientists have found ways to get genetically engineered RNAi into the cell using proteins in the cell membrane that can transport molecules from one side of the membrane to the other.
The proteins embedded in the membrane will help the RNAi to enter the cell or send a chemical message into the cell so that the RNAi can start interfering with the reproduction of the HIV virus. Several different types of RNAi need to be used during the treatment in order to target the variety of strains of HIV, that mutate from the original virus. The mutation rate for the HIV virus is extremely high compared to other viruses. This high mutation rate along with fast replication rates result in new strands regularly. A variety of RNAi strands make it difficult for the mutations to thrive in the body. In order to limit the number of RNAi resistant HIV virus strains, antiviral drugs may be taken in conjunction with the RNAi therapy. Because this treatment is so new, the side effects of the treatment are unknown, but the benefits of this revolutionary treatment are immeasurable.