How Genetically Modified T Cells Can Block HIV

How Genetically Modified T Cells Can Block HIV

By Giulia Pacchioni

Even though HIV can today be kept under control, meaning that infected patients can have a normal life expectancy, a cure is still a holy grail of medicine.

A new therapy that is currently being tested seems to bring renewed hope that a good treatment might be under way.
Rather than aiming at blocking viral replication, the new therapy uses genetically modified white blood cells that are made resistant to HIV. The patient’s white blood cells, T cells, are removed and undergo a genome editing procedure aimed at modifying one of the surface molecules the virus uses to get inside the cells. The idea came from the observation that a small percentage of the population resistant to HIV naturally carry this mutation, that does not seem to be harmful for the patient’s health. Some years ago the ‘Berlin patient’, Timothy Ray Brown, got rid of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor affected by this mutation.

Testing has already been performed on 70 patients, and so far tolerance and persistence of the modified cells in the blood (up to four years) seem to hint that the new therapy is fulfilling its promises. The Food and Drug Administration approved the treatment. New trials are ongoing, and hopes are high that a cure will soon be available.

INVENTION genetically modified blood cells to block HIV virus
ORGANIZATION California’s Stem Cell Agency, City of Hope
FIELD(S) medicine, HIV, genomics

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