Can gene therapy be harnessed to fight the AIDS virus?


For more than a decade, the strongest AIDS drugs could not fully control Matt Chappell’s HIV infection. Now his body controls it by itself, and researchers are trying to perfect the gene editing that made this possible.

Scientists removed some of his blood cells, disabled a gene to help them resist HIV, and returned these “edited” cells to him in 2014. So far, it has given the San Francisco man the next best thing to a cure.

“I’ve been off medications for three and a half years,” he said. He even was able to keep the virus in check despite cancer treatments last year that taxed his immune system.

Chappell was lucky, though. Only a few of the 100 others in those experiments were able to stay off HIV drugs for a couple years; the rest still need medicines to keep HIV suppressed.

Now researchers think they can improve the treatment and are trying again to tackle HIV by doctoring DNA. New studies to test these tweaked approaches in people are getting underway.

“Gene therapy techniques have advanced greatly,” said Dr. Otto Yang of the UCLA AIDS Institute, one place working on this. “A lot of people are thinking it’s the right time to go back.”

They include Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding some of the new studies. He doesn’t think the technique will become common because millions of people do well on existing treatments. But he says it could help those who can’t easily control the virus, and should be pursued because it holds potential for a cure.

“They’re very bold, innovative techniques, mostly to try and cure people,” he said. “It’s worth trying because the science is there.”

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Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

      

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