A team from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California, is working with City of Hope’s Center for Gene Therapy to test a cell culture resistant to the HIV virus for efficacy and safety. If testing goes as planned, TSRI and City of Hope investigators may have identified a new treatment for HIV.
The new technique offers a significant advantage over therapies where antibodies float freely in the bloodstream at a relatively low concentration. Instead, antibodies in the new study “hang on” to a cell’s surface, blocking HIV from accessing a crucial cell receptor and spreading infection.
Essentially the researchers are forcing cells to compete in a Darwinian “survival-of-the-fittest” match. Cells without antibody protection die off, leaving protected cells to survive and multiply, and pass along the protective gene to new cells.
“We currently have active clinical trials of gene therapy for AIDS using blood stem cell transplantation, and this experience will be applied to the task of bringing this discovery to the clinic,” said John A. Zaia, M.D., the Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy. “We’re committed to helping the Scripps scientists do the work to translate this research as quickly as we can into a usable therapy we can connect patients to. Our focus and ultimate goal will be the control of HIV in patients with AIDS without the need for other medications.”
TSRI’s Richard Lerner, M.D., the study’s senior author, said that City of Hope is the ideal place to advance this research. “It’s an honor to collaborate with physicians and scientists at City of Hope, whose expertise in transplantation in HIV patients should hopefully allow this therapy to one day be used in patients.”
Joseph Alvarnas, M.D. City of Hope’s director of value based analytics, said he believes this research is particularly important because people with HIV still have a high risk of cancer even if they are on anti-retroviral treatments.
“HIV remains a disease that causes a lot of suffering,” Alvarnas said. “That makes the case for why these technologies are so important.”
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