The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has so far been deadly for all too many of those who have acquired it.
But research now shows that the very qualities which make it lethal may be used in future life-saving gene therapies.
The use of viruses--as vehicles for supplying or replacing genes--has so far been limited by the fact that they can only be deployed when a cell is dividing.
But HIV viruses and similar retroviruses can be employed at other times.
The Salk-Whitehead group, composed of scientists of California's Salk Institute and Massachusetts' Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, has been altering HIV. In the group's process, the components vital to replication are deactivated while instructions for two proteins, which assist HIV in slipping its genes into the chromosomes of a host cell, are retained. This has worked on human cancer cells and microphages.
However, Inder Verma, of the Salk Institute, primary author of a research article published in the journal Science on April 12, 1996, related how it would be wise, for human experimentation, to come up with vectors from different but comparable viruses.
In the future, diseases like hemophilia and cystic fibrosis could probably be better treated through gene therapy.