Researchers at USC have created a virus that hunts down HIV-infected cells.

Dr. Pin Wan's lentiviral vector, a tool commonly used by molecular biologist to deliver genetic materials into HIV-infected cells, placing a genetic marker called "suicide gene therapy" allowing drugs to later target and destroy the infected cells. The research was published in the journal Virus Research.

"If you deplete all of the HIV-infected cells, you can at least partially solve the problem," said Wang, chemical engineering professor with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

The lentiviral vector approaches to targeting HIV has the advantage of avoiding collateral damage, keeping cells that are not infected by HIV out of harm's way.

Currently lentriviral vector has been tested in culture dishes and has resulted in the destruction of about 35 percent of existing HIV cells. Although, not a large percentage, if treatment were to be used in humans, it would be repeated several times to maximize effectiveness.

Among the next steps will be to test the procedure in mice. While this is an important breakthrough, it is not yet a cure, Wang said.

"This is an early stage of research, but certainly it is one of the options in that direction," he said.