For over ten years, the most effective Aids drugs couldn’t completely tame Matt Chappell’s HIV infection. His own body system now controls it, and scientists are looking at figuring out if this gene editing can be used to completely wipe out HIV from the body.
Scientist collected his blood sample, limited a gene so as to prevent HIV, and put back the edited blood cells into Matt in 2014. With this experiment, it was discovered that Matt Chappell came close to becoming totally free from the virus.
According to Matt Chappell, he hasn’t been taking any medications for almost four years. Despite passing through a hard time treating cancer last year (which affected his immunity), he was still able to keep HIV at bay.
The case of Chappell was a lucky one though. Of all the 100 people that underwent the experiment, he was the only one that was able to skip HIV medications for quite a number of years. Others still needed to keep up with their medicines to suppress the virus.
With the significant result gotten from Matt Chappell’s case, researchers believe they can enhance the treatment by putting more effort to see if they can tackle HIV via DNA. Work is still in progress to test this improved approach in different people.
One of the places working on this advancement is UCLA Aids Institute, and one of the staff, Dr. Otto Yang said that the gene therapy is gaining significant progress and most people think this is the best time to get it right.
Another person included in this study is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, Anthony thinks this technique won’t go that far because most HIV patients are comfortable with their existing treatment. He said the therapy could be of help to those not responding to HIV treatment and it has potential of becoming a permanent solution.
“They are very bold and innovative techniques, trying to cure people,” he said. “It is worth giving a try because the potential is there.”
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Just a single man has been completely cured of the infection, a person whom they did cell transplant from another person (donor) that has immunity to HIV. They discovered that the donor doesn’t have the gene through which HIV finds its way into the T cell.
The recipient enjoyed the same protection but approaches like these are dicey and impractical to use for the general public. Scientists are still trying to look for a way of creating similar impunity by tweaking some cells of a patient. They make use of a gene editor known as zinc finger nucleases. This editor cuts DNA at some specific spots to prevent the virus entryway gene.
This editing tool is made by a California Company called Sangamo Therapeutics, and they sponsored the first studies.
According to the president of Sangamo, Dr. Sandy Macrae, the T cells were able to be edited, but the techniques didn’t work as it ought to. The number of unaltered T cells were more than the altered ones and can still get infected.
Now, another researcher from City of Hope research center, Duarte, California, Dr. John Zaia is trying to tweak the approach. He is making use of blood stem cell – a parent cell that forms many others. He thinks that as soon as stem cells are evolved the benefits should spread and last for a longer time.
Though the gene editing approach didn’t work out fine at first, it still has silver lining. HIV patients used for the studies experienced a huge drop in cells in a passive state – known as the reservoirs of silent diseases.
Since there was a significant drop experienced, Dr Rafick-Pierre Sekaly of Case Western Reserve University is looking at capitalizing on that. He is trying to use similar gene editing technique, while still giving patients highly effective antiviral drugs for a minimum of one year before stopping the drugs.
They think that adding medications to the modified cells technique will drastically suppress the virus to a reasonable point that the body system can fight against any residual diseases, just as the case of Chappell.
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