Stem Cell Research Bringing Doctors Closer than ever to HIV Cure

After 30 years and thanks to extensive stem cell research, scientists are closer than ever before to finding a cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Led by Dr. Scott Kitchen, an associate professor of hematology and oncology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, the group of US scientists from California, Maine, and Washington have successfully engineered blood-forming stem cells that can carry genes capable of detecting and destroying HIV-infected cells.

But it’s not just that the stem cells were able to destroy the HIV-infected cells, they persisted in doing so for over two years without any negative effects. This equates to long-term immunity and the potential to completely eradicate the disease which, after 1981, quickly became the world’s leading infectious killer.

Kitchen received just over $1.7 million from California’s Stem Cell Agency to carry out his research. California has a special interest in the research as the state ranks second in the United States in cases of HIV. Over 170,000 people are infected, incurring healthcare costs which are being billed to the state. The total has continued to rise and now equates to over $1.8 billion per year.

California’s Stem Cell Agency maintains that “A curative treatment is a high priority. A stem cell based therapy offers promise for this goal, by providing an inexhaustible source of protected, HIV specific immune cells that would provide constant surveillance and potential eradication of the virus in the body.”

In the grant details, Kitchen identifies the potential impact of his research:

“The study will allow a potentially curative treatment for HIV infection, which currently doesn’t exist. This will eliminate the need to administer antiviral medication for a lifetime.”

According to his study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, Kitchen’s curative treatment involves the use of a ‘optimized’ chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) gene that interferes with interactions between HIV and CD4 cells (white blood cells).When a part of the CAR molecule binds to HIV, it’s instructed to kill the HIV-infected cell. These CAR proteins proved highly effective as they killed HIV-infected cells throughout the lymphoid tissues and gastrointestinal tract, two major sites in HIV replication.

If Kitchen and his team are able to effectively kill off infected cells, they have the potential to save millions of those currently infected with HIV across the globe and can also prevent the virus from advancing into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. In both cases, the immune system is completely broken down. T-cells, which normally fight and prevent all kinds of bacteria and viruses in the body, are weakened and depleted allowing common and usually treatable infections to become deadly.

Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, long before stem cell research, the number of people carrying HIV continued to climb as it continued to spread and in 1995, complications from AIDS became the leading cause of death for adults aged 25-44. Shortly thereafter, in 1997, the first truly effective treatment was developed. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) became the standard and there was a 47% decline in death rates.

By the early 2000’s, the World Health Organization set a goal to treat 3 million people and by 2010 there were 20 different treatment options available.  5.25 million people had treatment and over 1 million more were set to start treatment soon.

While these numbers are a massive improvement and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is continuing to approve and regulate HIV medical products, the disease is being slowed rather than halted. According to UNAIDS, over 35 million people are still currently living with HIV/AIDS.

Back in 2011, Kitchen co-authored a study about stem cell research in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the journal Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS. In it, he said that stem cell-based strategies for treating HIV were “a novel approach toward reconstituting the ravaged immune system with the ultimate aim of clearing the virus from the body.”

Since then, he’s continued to reach higher towards that ultimate aim.

Stem cell treatments utilize patients’ own cells for testing on humans and stem cell advances provide the very necessary opportunity for large clinical trials. It is Kitchen’s hope – and it’s safe to assume the worlds’ hope – that stem cell innovation can one day effectively eliminate the disease, therefore preventing its spread, saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs, and – most importantly – saving lives.


Enhanced Culture System Allows Scientists to Quickly Derive Embryonic Stem Cells From Cows

Ever since embryonic stem (ES) cells were derived from mice in 1981, the scientific community has been looking to do the same with bovine ES cells. Now, 37 years after the cells were cultured from mice and 20 years after the cells were cultured from humans, they’ve finally captured and sustained the cells in their primitive state from a cow. In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of California, Davis, detail how they were were able to enhance culture systems and derive stem cells with almost complete accuracy in just 3-4 weeks, a relatively quick turnaround time.

Access to these cells – which are able to develop into more than one mature cell or tissue type from muscle to bone to skin – could mean healthier, more productive livestock and could also give scientists and researchers an opportunity to model human diseases.the

ES cells are easily shaped and moulded and have a potentially unlimited capacity for self-renewal. This means that they’re extremely valuable in regenerative medicine and tissue replacement. In livestock and cattle, they offer the potential to create a sort of Super Cow that produces more milk and better meat, emits less methane, has more muscle, that adapts more easily to a warmer climate, and that is more resistant to diseases.

“In two and a half years, you could have a cow that would have taken you about 25 years to achieve. It will be like the cow of the future. It’s why we’re so excited about this,” author of the study Pablo Ross, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told Science Magazine.

In order to enhance culture systems to sustain the ES cells, scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego, California, had to expose ES cells to a new culture medium, a substance (sometimes a solid, sometimes a liquid, and sometimes a semi-solid) that’s designed to support the growth of microorganisms and cells. In this case, scientists used a protein to encourage cell growth and another molecule that hinders cells from separating or evolving.

“They used an accelerator and a brake at the same time,” George Seidel, a cattle rancher and a reproductive physiologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, told Science Daily.

In order for the enhanced culture systems to eventually lead to genetically superior cows, scientists will first have to augment these ES cells into the cattle’s gametes, or sperm and egg cells. The result would be endless genetic combinations, a sort of controlled evolution and accelerated natural selection. Of course, given that the evolution is taking place in a lab, each ‘generation’ would progress without any animals actually being born.

Ross maintains that “It could accelerate genetic progress by orders of magnitude”.

But it’s not just farmers and consumers that could benefit. The cows’ cells could help create larger models for studying human disease, something that mice simply couldn’t aid in due to their size. The science has also proved effective in deriving and sustaining cells from sheep. On scientists’ radars now: dogs.

Biomarker predicts risk of breast cancer recurrence after tamoxifen treatment

See on Scoop.itInteresting Innovation

A biomarker reflecting expression levels of two genes in tumor tissue may be able to predict which women treated for estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer should receive a second estrogen-blocking medication after completing tamoxifen treatment.

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