by Graham Pierrepoint
The 1980s were arguably just as tumultuous in terms of politics and world affairs as the 2010s are – perhaps on a slightly different scale, but nonetheless, the threats of nuclear war and impending doom were just as prevalent as some of the more sinister clouds gathering over the horizon today. One of the biggest threats in the 80s and 90s, however, was the rise of HIV – a devastating condition, largely spread through blood-on-blood or via unprotected sex, which can develop into AIDS, resulting in hugely weakened immune systems and an elevated risk of death. It’s estimated that around 35 million people worldwide have died as a result of HIV, and with the condition still rife in some countries across Africa, it has continued to be an unstoppable nightmare for millions.
However, there have been considerable strides in recent years in an effort to wipe out the threat of HIV and AIDS for good. Using the award-winning gene-editing CRISPR technique, scientists have this week confirmed that a potential cure for the disease has been discovered following extensive testing on mice in laboratory conditions. A piece in Molecular Therapy advised that researchers from Pittsburgh University and Temple University, US, were able to demonstrate a successful and efficient treatment of HIV in mice following transplant of human immune cells. The scientists admit that while there are still a few rough areas to iron out, the experimentation with CRISPR has provided considerable hope to those actively searching for a cure to HIV and any chances of it developing to AIDS for hundreds of thousands worldwide.
However, success in animal testing does not necessarily denote that it will translate well to human testing. The researchers are keen to advise that CRISPR may well hold the pieces to the puzzle – but it should still be noted that a cure for HIV is still some time away. This being said, there have been significant drops in infection in the West in recent years – but it is still a prevalent killer in some African countries, meaning that if a cure is to be sought in the long term, it could save millions more.
HIV and AIDS came to light during the 1980s and was largely associated with unprotected intercourse, leading to increased campaigning for safe sex and precautions. It is incredible to believe that, thirty or so years on, we are even on the cusp of a medical breakthrough – and we will be intrigued to see what happens next.