Stem cell research could lead to a cure for HIV
‘Berlin Patient’ Timothy Brown was cured of HIV after he received stem cells from a patient who was naturally immune. Since then, research groups have tried to recreate this natural immunity. Researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute have recently published research on how blood cells can be made inaccessible to HIV.
HIV enters cells using a specific entrance receptor called CCR5. This receptor enables HIV to enter the blood cells and take over the replication process. A new gene editing technique, called CRIPS, makes it possible to remove this gene. If this procedure can be adapted to blood stem cells in the bone marrow - which is entirely responsible for the development of the body’s blood and immune system cells - these manipulated cells could replicate and mature and eventually replace all non-manipulated cells vulnerable to HIV.
This so called gene therapy is similar to the transplant of cells Timothy Brown had, but will have a higher success rate as the patient’s own cells are used, making it a guaranteed match. Researchers say that if this technique survives animal and human pilots, it could potentially lead to a cure.