By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com January 24 2013 2:34 PM ET
Scientists at Stanford University have genetically engineered cells that are resistant to HIV, which could lead to an alternative therapy for people on heavy drug treatment plans.
According to a Stanford press release, the procedure uses molecular scissors to cut into T-cells, and then insert a series of HIV-resistant genes. The virus was therefore blocked from entering the cells, which is typically how it invades and then destroys the immune system.
Scientists also anticipated the ever-mutating forms of HIV by engineering the cell on multiple fronts to become resistant to the virus. Matthew Porteus MD, an associate professor at Stanford explained that by also inactivating the receptors that the virus typically uses to enter cells, the cell becomes even further protected.
"We can use this strategy to make cells that are resistant to both major types of HIV," he said. This tailored gene therapy could reduce or replace an HIVer's daily drug regimen, but clinical trials would still have to take place before the approach can be administered on humans.
"Providing an infected person with resistant T-cells would not cure their viral infection," assistant professor Sara Sawyer, PhD, added. "However, it would provide them with a protected set of T-cells that would ward off the immune collapse that typically gives rise to AIDS."
There are other issues that must be worked out with the genetically altered cells. Porteus cautions that the cells may rupture, causing a break elsewhere, leading to cancer or other cell aberration. He said it’s also possible the cells may not tolerate the genetic change.