With a little genetic tweaking, homo sapiens could become naturally resistant to HIV. A gene that can disassemble the HIV virus inside its cell before it spreads to another cell lurks dormant in the body of every person infected with HIV. The problem is getting that gene to turn on and start stopping HIV in its tracks. Right now, a team of researchers at University of Alberta in Canada have been destroying HIV viruses by inserting the gene, called TRIM22, into cells. Once they figure out how to control TRIM22, the question is whether everyone should get the gene activated in their bodies at birth as a preventative measure.
According to a release about the new study:
[Medical researcher Dr. Stephen] Barr's team finds the results very exciting because it shows our bodies have a gene that is capable of stopping the spread of HIV. They are now trying to figure out why this gene does not work in people infected with HIV and if there is a way to turn this gene on in those individuals. "We hope that our research will lead to the design of new drugs and/or vaccines that can halt the person-to-person transmission of HIV and the spread of the virus in the body, thereby blocking the onset of AIDS."
Barr suggested that genetic engineering should take a take a backseat, and that he and his team would try to create a drug that behaves like the gene does:
There are always newly emerging drug-resistant strains of HIV so the push has been to develop more natural means of blocking the virus. The discovery of this gene, which is natural in our cells, might provide a different avenue. The gene prevents the assembly of the virus so in the future the idea would be to develop drugs or vaccines that can mimic the effects of this gene.
But we wonder why it wouldn't be just as easy to use a drug that activates the gene, or simply to insert the gene into people without it. Image of HIV virus from UCLA.