‘Pure’ Stem Cells Let Mice Fight Off HIV

Jan 1, 2015

Credit: iStockphoto

By Charles Casey

An improved gene therapy strategy using modified human stem cells shows promise in animal models as a functional cure for HIV.

The achievement, which involves an improved technique to purify populations of HIV-resistant stem cells, opens the door for human clinical trials that were recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“We have devised a gene therapy strategy to generate an HIV-resistant immune system in patients,” says Joseph Anderson, principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of internal medicine at University of California, Davis.

“We are now poised to evaluate the effectiveness of this therapy in human clinical trials.”

Anderson and his colleagues modified human stem cells with genes that resist HIV infection and then transplanted a near-purified population of these cells into immunodeficient mice. The mice subsequently resisted HIV infection, maintaining signs of a healthy immune system.

The findings are now online and will be published in the journal Stem Cells.

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2 comments on “‘Pure’ Stem Cells Let Mice Fight Off HIV

  • The big problem with current HIV therapies is the HIV viruses develop immunity right within a single body to even a cocktail of several drugs. I had to go on a drug not yet released because my personal viruses were immune to all the standard drugs. I contracted HIV in 1985. Over the years my personal bugs went through quite a list of drugs. Happily these mutated viruses are poor at spreading.

    The other problem is side effects. Abacavir for example is fatal for some people (myself included. I barely survived it). Others, you just throw up.

    I would think the imperative to evolve might be stronger to defeat a drug out to kill a virus than to defeat the defences of a cell, but not by much. But at least stem cells give a whole new avenue of attack for those in whom all drugs have failed.

    We need something cheap and so effective the virus load is too low to have enough individuals to do sufficient “experimenting”/evolving to defeat the treatment.

    I have speculated you might devise some treatment that tricks evolution into going down some path that makes the virus completely vulnerable to some later simple attack. Another thought is taming the virus, simulating the effect of millions of years of evolution to become symbiotic. This symbiotic strain might be better at securing sites than the wild one. Another is finding something that binds to HIV as a marker, then using some potent poison that seeks out just those markers. Perhaps then you could get the HIV that is “hiding”. Ideally the marker would stick even when the HIV went into hiding.

    From a Darwinian point of view, people are going to have sex, even if they know they are infected. If they don’t have sex, they leave no offspring. If they do, there is some possibility the children will live long enough to reproduce. So what we need is a cheap, fool proof way to stop HIV transmission in semen. Perhaps a vasectomy plus something to cut the seminal fluid off or to filter it.

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  • I’m sure Katy would agree that god will introduce new viruses to punish us for having sex for reasons other than reproduction

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