A recent article in SFGate discusses the cure for HIV and how stem cell therapy is developing towards a possible cure. Two teams of scientists from the San Francisco Bay Area are heading towards a method of HIV treatment that does not involve daily medication. It involves stem cell therapy. The scientists are focusing on DNA of elite controllers. These are people who are naturally resistant to HIV due to a mutation that prevents the HIV cells from attaching to their immune cells. An elite controller donated bone marrow to the first patient cured of HIV, Timothy Brown, and scientists believe that it was the genetic mutation of the bone marrow that lead towards Timothy’s recovery.
The article continues to state that bone marrow transplants are typically risky and expensive. Thus, a scientist would abstract stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow and alter the stem cells to become HIV-resistant. A discovery done in the mid-1990s found that there is a specific genetic mutation that blocks a certain protein called CCR5. HIV easily attaches to CCR5, so by eliminating CCR5 from immune cells, it would be much harder for HIV cells to attach to immune cells. Scientists believe that only one percent of the population contain this genetic mutation where their CCR5 protein is genetically altered in a way so that HIV cells can not latch on to them.
The article continues to state that once the altered stem cells are replenished in the patient’s body, they will be able to replenish the immune system without any other treatment or transplants. The hope is that once the genetically altered cells are put into the body, the immune system will produce more of the HIV-resistant cell as a response to fight the virus. This is considered to be a functional cure, where the HIV cells will still remain in the body, but they will not be causing any damage.
The ideal therapy would involve a patient receiving a single injection that would re-engineer the stem cells in the body rather than removing the stem cells and treating them in a lab.