New gene technique 'stops HIV in its tracks'

HIV can be stopped dead in its tracks using a revolutionary technique for "silencing" genes, a study has shown. The discovery raises the possibility of a treatment for HIV that does not involve potentially toxic anti-viral drugs.

Scientists have found that RNA interference – where genes are artificially silenced using a natural molecular switch in the cell – can inhibit the replication of HIV in human blood cells.

Professor Premlata Shankar of Texas Tech University, who carried out the work when she was at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said: "RNA interference has great potential as an antiviral treatment... We think it has real promise, but there is a lot more to be done."

The results are the first to demonstrate the success of RNA interference in animals. Priti Kumar, of Harvard Medical School, said: "No one has demonstrated before that HIV infection can be stopped in vivo, not just in cell lines, but in animals. It implies it might work in humans." Further animal studies, however, are needed before the approach can be used on humans in clinical trials. The discovery of RNA interference won a Nobel prize in 2006.