Stem cell therapy for HIV may soon be tested on humans
A team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, have discovered that a therapy wherein the immune system is replaced with stem cells made from genes that are known to be resistant to HIV may be an effective cure for the virus.
The scientists conducted their experiment in mice, with promising results, and recently applied for approval to perform a human clinical trial to test their treatment.
In a mouse model, the researchers genetically engineered mice to have immune systems similar to those of humans with HIV. Then, they created a combination viral carrier made of HIV-fighting genes and replaced the rodents' immune system with the stem cells.
When the treated mice were exposed to HIV, the scientists observed that the new cells were protected from the virus. Moreover, the authors said that cells that were not resistant to HIV ended up being killed off, but that the healthy cells remained and were able to support white blood cell levels needed for a functional immune system.
"We envision this as a potential functional cure for patients infected with HIV, giving them the ability to maintain a normal immune system through genetic resistance," said lead author Joseph Anderson. "Ideally, it would be a one-time treatment through which stem cells express HIV-resistant genes, which in turn generate an entire HIV-resistant immune system."
If the researchers are able to test their therapy in a clinical trial and prove it to be effective in humans, the treatment may represent a significant breakthrough in reducing the rates of HIV and AIDS.
In the meantime, individuals should remember the basic tenets of safer sex in order to reduce their risk of contracting the virus: proper and consistent condom use and regular sexually transmitted disease testing.