A Californian biomedicine company has developed a cell-treatment therapy that, for the first time ever, can reduce the amount of HIV in the body of an infected person. While previous therapies have been limited to extending the life of the patient, this new treatment “has found a way to protect the T cells that HIV attacks first, so they can live to fight another day. The approach entails temporarily stopping a patient’s antiretroviral therapy and removing T cells carrying the CD4 receptor.” This receptor is the doorway through which the virus enters a cell.
What’s the Big Idea?
The company’s research builds on the observation that a naturally occurring mutation can protect people from HIV. “Ordinarily, humans have two copies of every gene. It turns out that individuals with a mutation in both copies of the CCR5 gene cannot be infected by the most common HIV strains.” But while the research is a positive step, some question the effectiveness of the proposed cell therapy. “No cell therapy is a practical approach to treating HIV/AIDS throughout the developing world, where seven out of 10 new infections are occurring.”