New Advance: Engineered Immune Cells Seem To Block HIV

Source: Ryan Jaslow / CBS News

Scientists claim they have safely introduced engineered immune cells in 12 people with HIV that have the ability to resist the virus.

Researchers are lauding it as a step toward paving the way to curing the disease. Typically, patients must stay on HIV treatments the rest of their lives.

“This reinforces our belief that modified T cells are the key that could eliminate the need for lifelong (antiretroviral drug therapy) and potentially lead to functionally curative approaches for HIV/AIDS,” Dr. Carl H. June, Richard W. Vague Professor in immunotherapy in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, said in a statement.

Researchers used so-called “zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) technology” — what they referred to as “molecular scissors” — to modify T cells in the immune system to mimic the CCR5-delta-32 mutation, a process called gene editing.

The CCR5-delta-32 mutation has been known to make people resistant to HIV, but is only found in about 1 percent of Caucasians. Timothy Ray Brown, known as the “Berlin Patient,” had both HIV and leukemia, and was believed to be “cured” of AIDS after he had blood stem cells containing the rare mutation transplanted in 2007. He said in 2012 that he hadn’t taken HIV medication since.

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