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Health Beat: Doctors use patients' stem cells to fight HIV

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TWC News: Health Beat: Doctors use patients' stem cells to fight HIV
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HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, and it attacks the immune system. You can get HIV from contact with infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. It cannot be spread by kissing or sharing drinking glasses with an infected person.

An estimated 1.2 million persons in the United States are living with HIV. It's also estimated that 24 to 27 percent of those people are undiagnosed and unaware of their infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Current U.S. guidelines list several preferred regimens for people starting anti-HIV treatment.

They all contain two nucleoside analogs: emtricitabine (Emtriva) and tenofovir (Viread).

Many other combinations are listed as "alternative regimens."

Other combinations are listed for use only when a preferred or alternative regimen cannot or should not be used.

Researchers from the UCLA AIDS Institute have, for the first time, demonstrated that human blood stem cells can be engineered into cells that can target and kill HIV-infected cells. It’s a process that potentially could be used against a range of chronic viral diseases.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed online journal PLoS One, provides a proof-of-principle that human stem cells can be engineered into the equivalent of a genetic vaccine.

Taking CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes, the "killer" T cells that help fight infection, from an HIV-infected individual, the researchers identified the molecule known as the T-cell receptor, which guides the T cell in recognizing and killing HIV-infected cells.

These cells, while able to destroy HIV-infected cells, do not exist in enough quantities to clear the virus from the body. So, the researchers cloned the receptor and genetically-engineered human blood stem cells, then placed the stem cells into human thymus tissue that had been implanted in mice, allowing them to study the reaction in a living organism.

The engineered stem cells developed into a large population of mature, multifunctional HIV-specific CD8 cells that could specifically target cells containing HIV proteins.

The researchers also found that HIV-specific T-cell receptors have to be matched to an individual in much the same way that an organ is matched to a transplant patient.

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