German doctor’s success inspires stem cell research to fight AIDS

December 6th, 2008 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 6 (IANS) A German doctor’s success in curing an American of AIDS with the help of a bone marrow transplant has spurred researchers to explore gene therapy to fight HIV.For instance, Gerhard Bauer of the University of California, Davis (UCD) has been working for more than 10 years on a similar cure for AIDS, based on replacing the devastated immune system of the HIV-infected with stem cells that have been engineered to resist AIDS. The success of the German doctor has given him hope.

“The case in Germany was a natural gene therapy experiment,” explained Bauer, an assistant professor of hematology and oncology. “We are working on a similar approach to genetically engineer a patient’s own stem cells in a way that mimics this natural immunity.”

“The German case,” he informed, “offers further proof that genetic engineering provides a pathway to success, and gene therapy offers real hope as a cure for AIDS.”

Last month, German doctors reported curing a 42-year-old American of AIDS. The patient, living in Berlin, also had leukemia, which is best treated by a bone marrow transplant.

Thinking they might be able to cure the man of both diseases, the physicians gave him a bone marrow transplant from a person with natural immunity to HIV. The patient has now lived for 20 months since the transplant without any detectable traces of HIV, said an UCD release.

To establish similar immunity in HIV patients, the UC Davis team manipulated human skin cells to give these cells many of the same properties as stem cells.

These transformed cells, called induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, are capable of differentiating into, among other cell types, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are normally found in bone marrow and are responsible for producing the various types of immune cells.

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