Scientists Develop a Possible Cure for HIV

November 10, 2008 02:29 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Scientists have engineered an immune cell that can find and attack HIV, even when it mutates.

‘Assassin’ Cells

Scientists from the United States and Britain have genetically engineered a human immune cell to attack HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), even when it mutates to disguise itself.

Not only can “killer T-cells” determine when other cells had been infected with HIV, but they also slowed the spread of HIV in a lab dish, according to Reuters.

HIV is a tricky virus because it can disguise itself to hide from immune cells. Scientists reported, however, that it took fewer engineered T-cells a shorter amount of time to find and control HIV than a natural T-cell.

"In the face of our engineered assassin cells, the virus will either die or be forced to change its disguises again, weakening itself along the way," Andy Sewell of Britain's Cardiff University told The BBC. “We'd prefer the first option but I suspect we'll see the latter. Even if we do only cripple the virus, this will still be a good outcome, as it is likely to become a much slower target and be easier to pick off.”

T-cell treatment testing in HIV patients could start as early as next year.

Background: HIV and gene editing

Earlier this year, scientists published information about whether it is possible to make people immune to HIV through new gene-editing techniques.

CCR5 is a protein on the surface of T-cells that the HIV uses to pull itself inside a human cell. A research team from the University of Pennsylvania announced that it had developed a method to clip the protein out of some T-cells. The method was tested on mice, not humans, “so it should be a source of guarded optimism, because it’s not certain the technique would work in humans,” Wired reported.

Related Topic: United States AIDS statistics

In August 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the number of Americans contracting AIDS each year is 40 percent higher than previously stated. A new blood test for the AIDS virus and new statistical methods indicate that the CDC’s estimate of how many Americans are contracting AIDS each year has been off by more than 16,000 people.

Reference: HIV/AIDS Resources


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