Scientists at the UCLA Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research are one step closer to engineering a tool to arm the body’s immune system to fight — and win — against HIV. The new technique harnesses the regenerative capacity of stem cells to generate an immune response to the virus.
“We hope this approach can one day allow HIV-positive individuals to reduce, or even stop, their current HIV drug regimen and clear the virus from the body altogether,” says Scott Kitchen, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. “We also think this approach could possibly be extended to other diseases.”
Dr. Kitchen and his colleagues are the first to report the use of an engineered molecule called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) in blood-forming stem cells. The researchers inserted a gene for a CAR into blood-forming stem cells in the lab, which then were transplanted into genetically engineered HIV-infected mice. The researchers found that the CAR-carrying blood stem cells successfully turned into functional T cells that could kill HIV-infected cells in the mice. The result was an 80-to-95 percent decrease in HIV levels, strongly suggesting that stem-cell-based gene therapy with a CAR may be a feasible and effective treatment for chronic HIV infection in humans.