According to a January 23, 2013 Fox News article, "Researchers develop HIV-resistant T-cells," Stanford University, California scientists have genetically engineered key cells in the immune system to resist infection by HIV. Only yesterday, on January 22, 2013, Stanford University announced in a news release that it has genetically engineered T-cells that are resistant to the HIV virus. Check out the news release by Ruthann Richter from Stanford University, "Engineering immune cells to resist HIV."
People with HIV have to take a cocktail of drugs daily to keep the lethal virus in check, according to the Stanford University news release. But a novel gene therapy approach, now under development at Stanford, could make patients resistant to the virus and free them from this lifelong dependence on drugs, which have adverse side-effects.
Genome editing makes special HIV-resistant T-cells
In the latest study, the researchers describe their technique of using “genome editing” to make T cells, key cells of the immune system, resistant to the virus. In studies done in the lab, the technique effectively blocked the virus from entering the cells through one of two receptors, known as CCR5 and CXCR4. These are the two common entry points for the virus.
In one instance, the researchers used genetic manipulation to deactivate the CCR5 receptor gene. And for added protection, they were able to introduce three known anti-HIV genes into the receptor genes. This blocked both CCR5 and CXCR4. These modified T cells had more than 1,200-fold protection, and in some instances more than 1,700-fold protection, against HIV; unmodified cells succumbed to infection in a matter of weeks, the researchers reported.
The research is still in the early stages and has to go through animal testing, as well as clinical trials. But it is a very encouraging step forward in the field of gene therapy for HIV, according to Matt Porteus, MD, the lead investigator, as reported in the Stanford article, "Engineering immune cells to resist HIV."
The point about genetically engineering cells is that they may be used to help patients with other types of illnesses, for example sickle cell anemia might also benefit from various tailored gene therapies. The big picture is about tailoring immunity-boosting T-cells to your DNA's particular needs.
Specialized immune cells that are targeted by the AIDs virus
Some people have a natural immunity to HIV infections. See the article, Natural Immunity to HIV: A Delicate Balance between Strength and Control. And with all the talk about genetically modified organisms and foods, one a favorable note is that Stanford researchers have (at the molecular level) cut and pasted HIV-resistance genes into T-cells, the specialized immune cells that are targeted by the AIDS virus.
Also check out other similar studies such as the following: "Engineering HIV-Resistant Human CD4+ T Cells with CXCR4-Specific Zinc-Finger Nucleases,"and " Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Latency: The Major Hurdle in HIV Eradication." Genetic engineering has become a type of editing process whereby cells and parts of cells can be cut and pasted in a similar way as you'd cut and paste words on a computer screen in a sense, but done with equipment that operates with live cells at the molecular level working with genes, chromosomes, and chunks or snips of DNA.
Genetic editing technology
The genetic editing prevented HIV from entering the cells, replicating, and devouring the immune system, according to the study published in the journal Molecular Therapy. You can read the original study or its abstract. There's a fine line to walk because if you inject protected T-cells into a person already infected with HIV, they'd still have the infection with the virus.
The results in this type of genetic engineering give a protected set of T-cells that could protect people infected with the HIV microbe against an eventual total immunity collapse as the virus develops into full-blown AIDs. The fine line to walk here is that if the person with HIV is contagious, they would have to understand that they still have the HIV virus in their body that could be transmitted to others.
Realities of re-engineering cells
The outcome is important because if someone mistakenly thinks he or she has natural immunity, they might keep passing the HIV virus to other people they come in contact with through the usual means. These people may have some protection against taking a turn for the worse and coming down with AIDs, but as far as the virus, it would still be in their bodies and looking for other host bodies to infect. The patient would have to understand this.
As far as the genetic engineering at Stanford, the re-engineering occurred in a laboratory, not in a group of people. This means various clinical trials would be needed to confirm that gene therapy was safe and effective in patients rather than only observing cells developing in a test tube, animal, or Petri dish. The bottom line is that a lot more testing is required.