Stem cell therapy to tackle HIV

Mar 31, 2010

A novel stem cell therapy that arms the immune system with an intrinsic defence against HIV could be a powerful strategy to tackle the disease.

Professor Ben Berkhout speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh today explains how this new approach could dramatically improve the quality of life and life expectancy for sufferers in whom antiviral drugs are no longer effective.

In the absence of an effective vaccine, daily administration of anti-retroviral drugs is the most effective treatment for HIV. However, low patient compliance rates combined with the virus's ability to easily mutate has led to the emergence of drug-resistant strains that are difficult to treat.

Professor Berkhout from the University of Amsterdam is investigating a novel gene therapy that has long-lasting effects even after a single treatment. It involves delivering antiviral DNA to the patients' own immune cells that arms them against viral infection. "This therapy would offer an alternative for HIV-infected patients that can no longer be treated with regular antivirals," he suggested.

The therapy involves extracting and purifying blood from the patient's bone marrow. Antiviral DNA is transferred to the cells in the laboratory, after which the cells are re-injected into the body. The DNA encodes tiny molecules called small RNAs that are the mirror image of key viral genes used by HIV to cause disease. The small RNAs float around inside the immune cell until they encounter viral genes which they can stick to like Velcro™. This mechanism, called 'RNA interference' can block the production of key viral components from these genes.

Transferring the antiviral DNA to stem cells would help to restore a large part of the patient's immune system. "Stem cells are the continually dividing 'master copy' cells from which all other immune cells are derived. By engineering the stem cells, the antiviral DNA is inherited by all the that are born from it," explained Professor Berkhout.

The group hopes to start clinical trials of the therapy within 3 years. "So far, very promising results have been obtained in the laboratory, and we are now testing the safety and efficacy in a pre-clinical mouse model," said Professor Berkhout.

Explore further: Scientists discover how a killer fungus attacks HIV patients

Provided by Society for General Microbiology

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bone marrow can harbor HIV-infected cells (w/ Video)

Mar 07, 2010

University of Michigan scientists have identified a new reservoir for hidden HIV-infected cells that can serve as a factory for new infections. The findings, which appear online March 7 in Nature Medicine, indicate a new ...

UC Davis researchers exploring gene therapy to fight AIDS

Dec 05, 2008

The apparent success of a case in which German doctors cured a man of AIDS using a bone marrow transplant comes as no surprise to Gerhard Bauer, a UC Davis stem cell researcher. Bauer has been working for more than 10 years ...

'Silencing' HIV with small bits of RNA

Aug 07, 2008

Researchers have shown that they can effectively tackle HIV-1 with small bits of gene-silencing RNA by delivering them directly to infected T cells, the major targets of the virus. While earlier studies had shown such a strategy ...

Asthma risk increases in children treated for HIV

Jul 01, 2008

Children whose immune systems rebound after treatment with potent anti-viral drugs for HIV infection face an increased risk of developing asthma, said a federally funded consortium of researchers led by those from Baylor ...

Recommended for you

Harm-reduction program optimizes HIV/AIDS prevention

Apr 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—New research from UC San Francisco and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation has found that clients participating in a harm-reduction substance use treatment program, the Stonewall Project, decrease their use ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

New breast cancer imaging method promising

The new PAMmography method for imaging breast cancer developed by the University of Twente's MIRA research institute and the Medisch Spectrum Twente hospital appears to be a promising new method that could ...

Breast cancer replicates brain development process

New research led by a scientist at the University of York reveals that a process that forms a key element in the development of the nervous system may also play a pivotal role in the spread of breast cancer.

Research proves nanobubbles are superstable

The intense research interest in surface nanobubbles arises from their potential applications in microfluidics and the scientific challenge for controlling their fundamental physical properties. One of the ...

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...