Adult Stem Cell Therapy may Treat AIDS

Tue Jan 20, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

January 20, 2009 ( – Research will be presented this week at the Stem Cell World Congress in Palm Springs, California, that purports to show that AIDS might be treated using stem cells taken from the patient’s own body. The researchers say they hope that a single transplant treatment would be available that would permanently prevent the immunodeficiency that is a result of HIV infection.

Dr. David DiGiusto, director of haematopoietic cell therapies at City of Hope Medical Centre in Duarte, California, said that although the possibility of a widespread treatment halting the progression of the disease is still at least a decade away, “we hope that eventually we will be able to give AIDS patients just one transplant and that would then protect them for life.”

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a sexually-transmitted infection that attacks the white blood cells which play a central role in the immune system by fighting other forms of infection. Over time the number of these cells in the body decreases as the virus spreads and the immune system stops working. Most patients are rendered unable to fight off infections themselves and usually die of opportunistic illnesses such as pneumonia or cancers such as lymphoma.

The study showed that three genes that protect cells against attack from HIV can be imported into stem cells taken from bone marrow, which are capable of forming all types of blood cells, including the white blood cells. The patient’s bodies then begin to produce new white blood cells that carry these anti-HIV genes that are resistant to attack from HIV.

A trial of the therapy was carried out in patients with AIDS-related lymphoma. Dr. DiGiusto said, “What we are doing is genetically modifying a fraction of the patient’s stem cells with genes that target three different aspects of HIV that allow it to get into the immune cells and replicate.

“When those stem cells are transplanted into patients, they create mature immune cells that circulate in the patient and protect against HIV.”

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