Researchers Experimenting With Mutant HIV In Anti-Cancer Gene Therapy
As HIV replicates, it creates slightly new versions of itself over successive generations — this allows it to readily resist most of the drug cocktails and anti-viral treatments developed to fight it. But it could also allow HIV to serve as a sort of molecule factory, creating new iterations of compounds that work in slightly different ways.
The CNRS team modified the genome of HIV by inserting a human gene for a protein called deoxycytidine kinase (dCK). This protein is found in all cells and is important for activating anti-cancer drugs. Researchers would like to make a more potent form of dCK that would allow cancer drugs to work more effectively, which could in turn require less of them, causing fewer side effects and less toxicity.
The team multiplied this mutant HIV through several generations, yielding an entire library of mutant dCK proteins, about 80 in all. Ultimately, they found a variant that induces tumor cells to die. With just 1/300th the dose of cancer-killing drugs, this one-two protein punch is just as effective at stopping tumor growth.
This is notable for a few reasons — first, the mutated protein was shown to work in human cell cultures, eliminating several middle steps with bacteria or animals. Second, it suggests there’s a way to make cancer drugs work more effectively simply by beefing up the body’s internal chemistry. And finally, it suggests a new therapeutic use for one of humanity’s strongest adversaries — HIV-derived protein factories could pump out generations upon generations of new molecules and drug compounds to help alleviate a wide range of illnesses.