(CBS NEWS) -- Have researchers taken a step closer to developing an eventual cure for HIV? A Temple University-led team hopes so, by using a gene editing technique to successfully remove HIV infection from lab mice. The gene-editing tool called CRISPR — which allows scientists to basically cut out and insert specific portions of DNA — was used to excise HIV DNA from the mice.
This was the first time CRISPR has been used to shut down HIV replication and eliminate the virus from animal cells. Think of CRISPR as working somewhat like microscopic scissors that snip out an unwanted piece of DNA and then replace that with a new piece. The research, published in the journal Molecular Therapy, involved three animal models, including a "humanized" model where human immune cells infected with the virus were transplanted in lab mice.
"Over our years of research, all of this was frankly a big surprise. This research, so far, has yielded all pleasant surprises, frankly. I never thought that this CRISPR system was going to be working out so beautifully with such efficiency and precision when it first came onto the scene," Kamel Khalili, director of Temple's center for neurovirology, told CBS News.
Khalili led the study along with Wenhui Hu, associate professor in Temple University School of Medicine's Center for Metabolic Disease Research and the Department of Pathology, and Won-Bin Young, who was at that time an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.