Human stem cells can be genetically engineered into ‘warrior’ cells that fight HIV – and the new cells can attack HIV-infected cells inside a living creature.
The breakthrough, by UCLA scientists, is hoped to be the first step towards a treatment that can eradicate HIV from an infected
Much HIV research focuses on vaccines or drugs that slow the virus’s progress – but this new technique could offer hope of a ‘cure’.
The study, published April 12 in the journal PLoS Pathogens, demonstrates for the first time that engineering stem cells to form immune cells that target HIV is effective in suppressing the virus in living tissues.
‘We believe that this study lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in
infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body,’ said lead researcher
Scott G Kitchen.
The scientists took CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes — the ‘killer’ T cells that help fight infection — from an HIV-infected individual and identified the molecule which guides the T cell in recognizing and killing HIV-infected cells.
However, these T cells, while able to destroy HIV-infected cells, do not exist in great enough quantities to clear the virus from the body.
So the researchers cloned the receptor and used this to genetically engineer human blood
stem cells. They then placed the engineered stem cells into human thymus tissue that had been implanted in mice, allowing them to study the reaction in a living organism.
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