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Dr. Pin Wang  (Source: University of Southern California)
A USC researcher created a lentiviral vector that targets and flags HIV-infected cells

A researcher from the University of Southern California has developed a virus that identifies specific HIV-infected cells, later allowing drugs to kill these cells.

Dr. Pin Wang, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Southern California, has created a lentiviral vector that targets and flags HIV-infected cells. Then, drugs follow the flags left by the virus and destroy these cells.

This process was compared to a military practice of buddy lasing, where a soldier is on the ground illuminating a target with a laser while an aircraft launches a precision bombing strike.

A huge benefit to this new method is that the virus only flags cells infected by HIV, meaning the drugs only target these cells as well, leaving healthy cells alone. Traditional HIV treatment drugs are released into the body with no real direction, causing negative side effects because healthy and HIV-infected cells are targets.

"If you deplete all of the HIV-infected cells, you can at least partially solve the problem," said Wang.

But this new technique hasn't achieved the elimination of all HIV-infected cells quite yet. In tests, which have only been conducted in culture dishes so far, 35 percent of HIV-infected cells were destroyed. It may not be at 100 percent, but it could be used multiple times to increase effectiveness.

Wang noted that this is not a cure quite yet, but could reach that point one day with more research.

"This is an early stage of research, but certainly it is one of the options in that direction," said Wang.

The next step is to test the technique on mice, and eventually humans if all goes well.




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