Apparent Progress Made in Gene Treatment of HIV
Posted on May 3, 2012
Researchers are encouraged by the results of a 16-year study of T cells that have been engineered to kill cells infected with HIV. The altered cells reproduce themselves successfully and have not led to the development of cancers, as previous attempts to tinker with T cells’ genetics have.
Still, researchers cannot be sure that the HIV cells have been reduced or completely eliminated, and are preparing a new trial that will help them to determine that. —ARK
Forty-three patients got immune cells designed to attack and kill cells infected with HIV. As long as 16 years later, these genetically engineered T cells are still circulating in their bloodstreams. And there’s been no sign the gene therapy caused any cancers, or is likely to.
That may seem like a modest victory. After all, there’s no evidence yet that the gene therapy did what it’s supposed to — eliminate the reservoir of HIV hiding in the patients’ cells, waiting to emerge as soon as patients stop taking their antiviral drugs.
But to scientists in HIV and gene therapy research, it’s a highly encouraging indicator. “We’re not hitting a home run. This is a single,” AIDS researcher Pablo Tebas of the University of Pennsylvania tells Shots.
“It looks like if you do this, it’s going to be safe because we have not seen any toxicity in 16 years,” he says. “And two, the genetically modified cells are still circulating. They perpetuate. Those are two important things this study is telling us.”
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