Stem Cells and HIV

HIV is a global problem and affects everyone, no matter where in the world you live – Britain or elsewhere. Finding new ways to battle HIV is key in the minds of many researchers. But although we have made progress with antiviral drugs, some people have developed a resistance to these drugs and for others, the side-effects cause too many problems.

New Defences Against HIV

One important area of research for HIV is to look at how stem cell therapies might help. In a recent study, scientists found that a stem cell therapy could effectively arm the immune system with a special defence against HIV. Their hope is that this novel treatment can be a new weapon in the fight against HIV.

Improved Quality of Life for HIV Sufferers

Researchers hope that this innovative treatment helps improve quality of life for HIV sufferers. It is also hoped that it can improve their life expectancy, particularly when antiviral drugs are not successful anymore.

Traditional Use of Antiviral Drugs

Typically with antiviral drugs, an HIV sufferer has to take the medications on a daily basis. Without an effective vaccine available, sufferers rely on antiviral drugs to support their immune system against the virus.

Poor Patient Compliance

Unfortunately, patient compliance is not always high and the virus has a sneaky ability to mutate rather easily. The result has been that we now have drug-resistant strains of the HIV and these are infinitely more challenging to treat. It has meant that the pressure is high for researchers to find something more effective – and do so quickly.

How the Gene Therapy Works

The gene therapy is thought to have relatively long-lasting effects, especially compared to the current daily dosing of antiviral drugs. Even one treatment of this therapy has shown longer effects.

It works by bringing antiviral DNA to the sufferer’s own immune cells. It then primes them to fight against the viral infection. The hope is that it will be a successful alternative for those patients who can’t obtain good results with a normal antiviral therapy.

The therapy itself works through an extraction and purification system. In it, blood stem cells are removed from the patient’s own bone marrow. Then, antiviral DNA gets transferred to cells; this is all done in the laboratory setting. Afterwards, these cells are injected back into the patient’s body.

The DNA is important because it encodes very small molecules that are mirror images of the viral genes that HIV uses to trigger disease in humans. These little molecules known as small RNA’s are suspended inside an immune cell but when they come into contact with a viral gene, they ‘stick’ to it.

This interference mechanism then halts the production of the main viral parts from these genes. Overall, shuffling the antiviral DNA to the stem cells helps to arm the patient’s immune system.

Using Stem Cells to Help HIV Sufferers

Researchers want to begin clinical trials of this novel therapy within the next few years, with the hope to get treatments directly to HIV sufferers as soon as possible. The positive laboratory results have scientists hopeful that the safety and efficacy will prove similarly strong in clinical trials. For HIV sufferers, this is good news that we may find better treatments to keep the disease in check.

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