Researchers from Tel Aviv University have demonstrated success of a novel technology that may be developed into a one-time vaccine to treat people with HIV and AIDS. Using CRISPR technology, the researchers engineered B cells that in turn stimulate the immune system to produce HIV-neutralising antibodies.
Published in Nature, the study was led by Dr Adi Barzel and PhD student Alessio Nehmad and conducted in collaboration with additional researchers from Israel and the US.
“Based on this study,” said Dr Barzel, “we can expect that over the coming years we will be able to produce a medication for AIDS, additional infectious diseases and certain types of cancer caused by a virus, such as cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and more.”
He explains that the treatment can become a kind of permanent medication, lingering in the body to fight the virus. “We developed an innovative treatment that may defeat the virus with a one-time injection, with the potential of bringing about tremendous improvement in the patients’ condition. When the engineered B cells encounter the virus, the virus stimulates and encourages them to divide, so we are utilising the very cause of the disease to combat it. Furthermore, if the virus changes, the B cells will also change accordingly in order to combat it, so we have created the first medication ever that can evolve in the body and defeat viruses in the ‘arms race’.”
When they mature, the antibody-generating B cells move into the blood and lymphatic system and from there to the different body parts.
Dr Barzel explained: “Until now, only a few scientists, and we among them, had been able to engineer B cells outside of the body. In this study, we were the first to do this within body and then make those cells generate the desired antibodies. The genetic engineering is conducted with viral carriers derived from viruses that were also engineered. We did this to avoid causing any damage, and solely bring the gene coded for the antibody into the B cells in the body.”
“Additionally, in this case we have been able to accurately introduce the antibodies into a desired site in the B cell genome. All lab models that had been administered the treatment responded, and had high quantities of the desired antibody in their blood. We produced the antibody from the blood and made sure it was actually effective in neutralising the HIV virus in the lab dish.”
Source: Tel Aviv University