Last week I watched “Dallas Buyers Club” the movie that garnered Oscars for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto tells the story of AIDS patient Ron Woodroof, who worked to improve the symptoms of those suffering from the disease in the 1980s. Treatment of HIV/AIDS has come a long way in the last 30 years and now scientists say they might be able to genetically alter the immune cells of HIV patients to resist infection.
TechnologyReview reports that from a study in the New England Journal Of Medicine, researchers have created beneficial mutation of T cells using genome editing to recreate a rare mutation that protects 1 percent of the population from those carrying the virus. Patients who received the gene-modifying treatment showed decreased viral loads of HIV and one patient revealed no detection of the virus in his blood.
Here is how the cell mutation treatment works: immune cells are harvested from the blood of the patient. Then using a zinc finger nucleus (genome-editing tools that researchers use to create specific changes to the genomes of living organisms) CCR5 genes which encode proteins on the surface of immune cells and act a critical entry point of HIV are broken and infused back into the patient’s bloodstream.
It’s a bit confusing, but because the cells are the patient’s own there’s no risk of rejection and the modified T cells are more resistant to HIV infection. Gene therapy researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Bruce Levine says that people who carry one broken copy of the CCR5 progress to AIDS slower than those who don’t.
The next step for the team will be increasing the number of immune cells in patients carrying two broken copies of CCR5.