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Scientists find way to make cells resistant to HIV, hope to cure AIDS

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A big step towards curing the disease in a person with HIV was made by researchers who found a way to tether HIV-fighting antibodies to immune cells.The scientists’ experiments at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) created a cell population resistant to the virus and showed that these resistant cells can quickly replace diseased cells.

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According to a press release, 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.

Jia Xie, senior staff scientist at TSRI and first author of the study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, called it the “neighbour effect” as an antibody stuck nearby is more effective than having many antibodies floating throughout the bloodstream.

“This is really a form of cellular vaccination,” study senior author Richard Lerner said.

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Because the delivery system can’t reach exactly 100 percent of cells, the finished product was a mix of engineered and unengineered cells. The researchers then added rhinovirus to these cell populations and waited to see what would happen. The vast majority of cells died in about two days. In dishes with only unengineered cells, the population never recovered. There was an initial die-off in the mixed engineered/unengineered populations, too, but their numbers quickly bounced back.

After 125 hours, these cell populations were back up to around the same levels as cells in a healthy control group. In essence, the researchers had forced the cells to compete in Darwinian, “survival-of-the-fittest” selection in a lab dish. Cells without antibody protection died off, leaving protected cells to survive and multiply, passing on the protective gene to new cells.

“HIV is treatable but not curable—this remains a disease that causes a lot of suffering.That makes the case for why these technologies are so important,” Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Value-Based Analytics at City of Hope, said.

John Michaelle