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Brec1 © Heinrich-Pette-Institut (HPI)

Researchers in Hamburg and Dresden develop HIV gene scissors

Recombinase Brec1 may point the way in HIV therapy. First clinical trial planned in Hamburg

Researchers at the Heinrich Pette Institute (HPI) and the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology and the Medical Faculty of the Dresden Technical University (TUD) have successfully developed a designer recombinase (Brec1) that is able to remove the provirus from infected cells of most primary HIV-1 isolates. The results have now been published in the Nature Biotechnology journal.

No noticeable side effects

The head of the HPI group, Prof. Joachim Hauber, said: “Only the complete removal of the HIV provirus from the genome of patient cells will ultimately lead to a durable cure of the infection. With the development of the Brec1 recombinase we are now able to target almost all of the clinically relevant HIV-1 isolates and remove the provirus without recognizable side effects.”

Clinical trials to be conducted in Hamburg

The research teams used directed molecular evolution to generate a designer recombinase (Brec1), which can remove the provirus from the majority (>90%) of clinical HIV-1 isolates found in humans. The team showed that the approach works on cells directly isolated from HIV-1 patients. Crucially, the antiviral effects were accomplished without measurable cytotoxic or genotoxic side effects. Based on these findings, Brec1 represents a promising candidate for possible applications in improved HIV therapies. The first clinical trials are to be carried out in Hamburg in the foreseeable future.

2 million new infections annually

At present, some 37 million people are HIV positive and over 2 million new infections occur annually. Thus, HIV/AIDS is still a a major world health challenge. Even though enormous advances have been made in HIV treatment, a complete cure is still not possible. Medicaton can stop the propagation of the virus, but the provirus remains in the body’s cells.

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About HPI

The HPI is a Leibniz Institute dedicated to research in the field of experimental virology. Its basic and applied research focuses on human pathogenic viruses that impact current and future public health. The institute applies basic experimental research to develop new approaches for contemporary treatments of viral infections such as AIDS, influenza and hepatitis but also of emerging viral diseases. Founded in 1948, the institute was established as “The Foundation for the Research of Spinal Poliomyelitis” by Philipp Fürchtegott Reemtsma and the neuroloogist Heinrich Pette. The HPI’s research is partly funded by the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and the combined research funding by the Länder, which is represented by Hamburg’s Ministry of Science, Research and Equality (BWFG). For more information, see:

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