By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A scientific first from Philadelphia, that could pave the way toward curing HIV. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the breakthrough.

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Instead of suppressing and treating HIV and AIDS, which is what currently happens, researchers have for the first time shown they’ve found a way to destroy the virus.

It might not look like a typical operating room, but in a lab at Temple’s Center for Neurovirology researchers are performing surgeries on genes.  Welcome to the front lines of genetic surgery. They’ve found a way to operate on DNA and destroy the AIDS virus.

“It’s an important finding because for the first time in laboratory setting we show that the virus can be eradicated from human culture, cell culture, said Dr. Kamel Khalili, who led the research team. They developed molecular tools that can hunt down and delete HIV in cells.

“Basically converting infected cells to un-infected cells and that is very important because the current therapy can not eliminate the virus from cells,” said Dr. Khalili.

Dr. Khalili showed a slide with a cell infected with HIV, highlighted in green. Then he showed another slide where the HIV is gone, the result of Temple’s gene surgery.

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“We have a cure for HIV elimination.  We have a system to eliminate HIV from the cells in the laboratory,” said Dr. Khalili.

Now the next step is to find a way to move the discovery from the lab into animals then people, the groundwork being set for curing HIV.

“Very exciting, it’s very exciting,” said Dr. Khalili.

Dr. Khalili doesn’t have a time frame on when this discovery could be in clinical trials.  There are so many variables.

Thirty-three-million people have HIV. One million are in the United States. Every year 50,000 Americans contract the virus.

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Stephanie Stahl