Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cats may hold a Cure for HIV/AIDS

Cool Cats Say ‘No’ to HIV

For all the feline loving cat owners out there like myself, we all love out cats dearly and think our felid companions are just the greatest but honestly ask yourself this; how great is your pet cat actually? Does it glow in the dark and can it save two species from their own pandemic immunodeficiency diseases? If you answered no to any of these, well than your pets probably aren’t as great these cool cats...

Three little fluorescent green kittens from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota are making headlines around the world as they may hold the possible key for a cure to feline and human immunodeficiency viruses (FIV/HIV). The Guardian [1], ScienceDaily [2] and BBC [3] have all published recent reports on this study. Dr. Eric Poeshela has trangenetically modified a few fuzzy little felines into glowing, virus resistant miracles. At the oocyte stage of their life, Dr.

Poeschla and his research team injected the kittens with vectors; the shells of modified and inactive HIV-1 viruses that can be used as delivery vehicles for genetic material of the researchers’ choice to the test subjects. The vectors contained a dual gene consisting of a known Asian rhesus macaque ‘restriction factor protein’ and an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) from a jellyfish; used to track the presence and activity of the restriction factor protein in the kittens’ cells. After injection, when the vectors reach the oocytes they invade their cells, just like an active virus does, and then inserts the genetic material within them into the DNA of the oocytes adding new the genes to the feline genome (Poeschela, E., 2011, 553-559). If the genes carried by the vector are successful and ‘express’ themselves then the resulting kittens should glow green under certain frequencies of light just like the jellyfish the eGFP came from do!

Below: control and genetically modified cat under blue light and normal light respectively. Photographs were taken at the Mayo Clinic (Poeschela, E., 2011).

The results of Poeshla’s experiment were successful; producing three glowing kittens with up to 80% eGCP expressing cells. You can read Pochela’s full report with the link in the footnotes below [4] if you have a subscription to Nature Methods journal (the University of Queensland is subscribed and you can access the link within UQ’s network for free). The kittens’ freakish green glows means that their bodies’ cells are actively producing the macaque restriction factor proteins. This is because the eGFP was attached to the same alleles as the restriction factor that was inserted into the vectors and then by the vectors into the feline genome; this is the real magic! The restriction factor is a protein that in macaques is known to have antiviral properties against immunodeficiency diseases like HIV. This is the reason why scientists believe that the monkeys do not suffer from any type of immunodeficiency disease but humans and felines who have not naturally evolved these restriction factors into their own genome do. By transgenically inserting the restriction factor from the macaques into the kittens scientists are hoping that it will work in the same way in the kittens that it does the monkeys giving them immunity to FIV. If this is proven successful in future studies the science could then be applied to human being as a type of gene therapy to treat HIV patients.


1.       Poeschela, E., et. al, 2011, “Antiviral Restriction Factor Transgenesis in the Domestic Cat,” Nature Methods; 8, p. 553-559


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