Stanford researchers engineer cells to resist HIV infection

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine recently found a novel way to engineer immune system cells to make them resistant to human immunodeficiency virus, according to a recent study.

Matthew Porteus, the study's principal investigator, and his team used a kind of molecular scissors to cut and paste a series of genes that are resistant to HIV into specialized immune system cells called T cells. The team performed the genome editing in the area that the AIDS virus uses to enter into the immune system cell. The process effectively blocked the virus from entering the cells and preserved the immune system.

"We inactivated one of the receptors that HIV uses to gain entry and added new genes to protect against HIV, so we have multiple layers of protection - what we call stacking," Porteus said. "We can use this strategy to make cells that are resistant to both major types of HIV."

Porteus said that the new approach could replace drug treatment. Because the work was performed in the laboratory, clinical trials would be needed to determine if the approach would work therapeutically.

"Providing an infected person with resistant T cells would not cure their viral infection," Sara Sawyer, a co-author of the study, said. "However, it would provide them with a protected set of T cells that would ward off the immune collapse that typically gives rise to AIDS."

Porteus said that he hopes to adapt the techniques to use against other diseases such as sickle cell anemia.

The study was published on Tuesday in the journal Molecular Therapy.