The HIV virus is very smart. It works by essentially hijacking a healthy cell, forcing the cell to make copies of the viral DNA, and then integrating these copies into the cell’s genes. Current drugs only interfere with HIV at certain steps: by slowing its replicatory process or stopping it from incorporating into the cell’s DNA. However, these drugs do not remove the existing viruses that are hidden in the DNA, so HIV can remain dormant for years and then suddenly activate. Also, patients might be on a cocktail of many different drugs that they need daily for their entire lives to combat the spread of HIV within their bodies, which costs a lot of money and time. These drugs can be very toxic to the human body, and can only hold off the infection for so long until AIDS develops. People can survive for years while on these drugs, but it is not a long-term solution; the virus will eventually take over.
The use of CRISPR in this manner is absolutely groundbreaking. Instead of stopping the amplification of HIV after it has already manifested itself within the genome, this method cuts it off right at the beginning of its life cycle (no pun intended). CRISPR is able to provide long-term adaptive defense against future viral infections. In fact, when CRISPR was inserted into cells before infection, it prevented the uptake of HIV, killing the virus by chopping it up before it could even start replicating. To me, that sounds like a vaccine for HIV.
To summarize, CRISPR could be able to prevent HIV, treat people who already have HIV, and even remove all the dormant copies of HIV in patients with a more advanced infection. But HIV is not the only virus that CRISPR can be engineered to work against! The CRISPR system and its proven success in this experiment opens doors for the use of CRISPR against unlimited types of viruses and diseases that were previously thought to be incurable. However, there are many obstacles in the future of CRISPR. How could we make this therapy a realistic option for those living in lower-income countries? And there is always the possibility that this therapy could fail in trial. It may take some time, debate, and a lot of advocacy before the therapeutic use of the CRISPR system becomes a reality for everyone who has HIV, but I am hopeful that soon we will be living in a world where HIV/AIDS is no longer a fatal disease, but one you could simply get a vaccination for.
"HIV/AIDS 101" AIDS.gov. 11/13/2014 2014.Web. <https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/global-statistics/index.html>.
Liao, Hsin-Kai, et al. "Use of the CRISPR/Cas9 System as an Intracellular Defense Against HIV-1 Infection in Human Cells." Nature Communications (2015) Web.
Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "Cellular scissors chop up HIV virus."
ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2015.