HIV: RNA nanomedicine reduces disease replication by 73%

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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  • There is currently no cure for HIV, but medications can help people with the disease manage their symptoms.
  • HIV can still develop into AIDS years after infection, however, even with disease management.
  • Canadian researchers have developed a novel way to use RNA to help fight HIV using gene therapy.

As of 2022, about 39 million people around the world live with an infection of the human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system and its white blood cells. This makes a person vulnerable to other infections and diseases.

There is currently no cure for HIV. Doctors can use antiretroviral therapy (ART) to help manage the disease. However, it is still not a cure, and HIV can still develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) after 10 years or more.

Now, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a way to use Health">ribonucleic acid (RNA) to fight HIV using gene therapy.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Controlled Release.

For this study, the researchers created a new nanomedicine filled with genetic materials called small interfering RNAs (siRNA).

“siRNA was selected as a potential therapy because they can be designed to regulate the expression of specific genes in the body,” lead study author Dr. Emmanuel Ho, associate professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo, explained to Medical News Today. “Benefits of this include lower chance of side effects in comparison to conventional small molecule drugs.”

As the siRNAs can dictate which genes or proteins are turned on or off in cells, researchers reported they caused a 73% reduction in HIV replication.

Additionally, the new nanomedicine helped combat issues HIV presents when it comes to autophagy — the body’s “recycling program” where it reuses old and damaged cell parts and also helps the body get rid of viruses and bacteria.

“Autophagy is a natural process by which our cells can “self-digest” proteins for recycling or even eliminate microbes,” Dr. Ho detailed. “Unfortunately, HIV is smart and they are able to inhibit autophagy by producing a protein called Nef.”

The researchers also targeted a host gene called CCR5 and the viral gene Nef as a “dual preventive strategy.”

“By developing a combination nanomedicine that can deliver siRNA specific for Nef and CCR5, we hope to one, reduce the expression of CCR5 on cells to reduce HIV binding and infection two, if unfortunately, HIV is still able to infect cells, then by reducing the expression of Nef, we can re-activate autophagy in these cells so that they can digest HIV. This is the first study demonstrating this two-pronged approach for preventing HIV infection.”

— Dr. Emmanuel Ho, lead study author

The scientists developed the new nanomedicine so it could be applied vaginally.

“HIV disproportionately affects more females than males,” Dr. Ho said. “This can be due to differences in biological factors, e.g. the female genital tract has a larger surface area compared to the male genital tract, increasing the risk of HIV infection.”

“Furthermore, in certain regions around the world, due to socio-cultural factors, some females are not able to negotiate condom usage with their sexual partners, hence, increasing the risk of HIV infection,” he continued.

“By developing a vaginal product, this will provide females with an additional option to protect themselves.”

Dr. Ho said that his research group is also currently exploring new technologies that can protect both females and males from HIV infection.

“Next steps will include further optimizing the technology to increase its efficacy in protecting against HIV infection,” Dr. HOo added. “This may include altering the amount of siRNA delivered or altering the nanocarrier composition to improve its uptake into target cells.”

Dr. Liu agreed a vaginal medication could allow females to have more control over their Health.

“As a practicing physician, I would like to see what the side-effects of these nanomedications are and how effective they are in the general population in HIV infection prevention,” Dr. Liu said.

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