HIV stem cell therapy prize, the race is on.
On July 23rd news broke of two scientists racing against one another to develop a HIV stem cell therapy, a cure for a disease which has been incurable for decades. The treatment would change the patient’s immune system which would remain virus free without the need for expensive, daily medications.
The idea is based upon the DNA of “elite controllers”. Elite controllers are people who, due to a genetic mutation, are naturally resistant to HIV. The mutation prevents the virus from latching onto their immune cells.
The “Berlin Patient” – The first HIV stem cell therapy?
It has already been widely documented that Timothy Brown, also known as the Berlin Patient, has been cured of HIV. Timothy was cured of his HIV when he developed cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant. Timothy’s bone marrow donor was an “elite controller” and after the transplant, Timothy was cured of HIV.
Unfortunately, bone marrow transplants are incredibly expensive and risky. With the advancement in HIV treatments the risk of a bone marrow transplant far outweighs the benefits for the general population. However, the idea of a HIV stem cell therapy has sparked the imagination of researchers with the idea that stem cells from a patient’s own bone marrow could be altered to become HIV resistant and theoretically have the same effect as a bone marrow transplant.
“If you could make a person’s immune system mutated in a way that HIV could not infect it, then you may be able to cure the HIV,” said Dr. John Zaia, a virologist with the Beckman Research Institute.
Cord blood can often be used not only as a substitute but as a preferential source of stem cells than those found in bone marrow. Cord blood banking helps the patient avoid painful bone marrow extraction when stem cells are needed for treatment and the stem cells found in cord blood have been preserved in their optimum state due to their lack of exposure to the elements that stem cells from an older person may have.