Research out of The University of Texas may improve the way we treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS by weakening the body’s ability to stave off infection.
Assistant professor Sara Sawyer collaborated with researchers from Stanford University to find a way to manipulate certain cells of our immune systems into resisting HIV.
“When someone has HIV, it is not the virus itself that kills them,” Sawyer says. “What actually happens is the virus depletes important immunity cells, called T cells.”
The study, published in Molecular Therapy, describes how the researchers use a kind of “molecular scissors” to cut and paste HIV-resistant genes into a patient’s T cells.
“This would protect them from the immune collapse and hopefully all of the negative things that lie downstream of that,” Sawyer says.
Ultimately, Sawyer says, the method may be able to replace the daily use of antiretroviral drugs, which can have serious side effects. Right now, genetically creating these HIV-resistant cells is labor-intensive and requires tailoring for each patient. But Sawyer has hopes a T cell-based approach will eventually be perfected and tested on both animals and humans—maybe even in the next three to five years.
“That’s really all I care about,” Sawyer says. “That people with HIV can live a better and longer life, and that we can limit spread to uninfected people.”
Sara Sawyer. Photo courtesy UT-Austin.