Image and quote via NPR
Millions of people around the world are living with HIV, thanks to drug regimens that suppress the virus. Now there's a new push to eliminate HIV from patients' bodies altogether. That would be a true cure.
We're not there yet. But a report in Science Translational Medicine is an encouraging signpost that scientists may be headed in the right direction.
Forty-three patients got immune cells designed to attack and kill cells infected with HIV. As long as 16 years later, these genetically engineered T cells are still circulating in their bloodstreams. And there's been no sign the gene therapy caused any cancers, or is likely to.
That may seem like a modest victory. After all, there's no evidence yet that the gene therapy did what it's supposed to — eliminate the reservoir of HIV hiding in the patients' cells, waiting to emerge as soon as patients stop taking their antiviral drugs.
But to scientists in HIV and gene therapy research, it's a highly encouraging indicator. "We're not hitting a home run. This is a single," AIDS researcher Pablo Tebas of the University of Pennsylvania tells Shots.
"It looks like if you do this, it's going to be safe because we have not seen any toxicity in 16 years," he says. "And two, the genetically modified cells are still circulating. They perpetuate. Those are two important things this study is telling us."