As science comes ever closer to discovering a functional cure for HIV, it’s nice to hear about the progress that’s been made every now and then just so we know we’re not stuck in arrested development. So here’s a little good news for everyone: UCLA has finally found a cure for HIV! Well, sort of. The cure only works in mice.
In the previous research, the scientists took CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes — the “killer” T cells that help fight infection — from an HIV-infected individual and identified the molecule known as the T cell receptor, which guides the T cell in recognizing and killing HIV-infected cells. However, these T cells, while able to destroy HIV-infected cells, do not exist in great enough quantities to clear the virus from the body. So the researchers cloned the receptor and used this to genetically engineer human blood stem cells. They then placed the engineered stem cells into human thymus tissue that had been implanted in mice, allowing them to study the reaction in a living organism.
The engineered stem cells developed into a large population of mature, multi-functional HIV-specific CD8 cells that could specifically target cells containing HIV proteins. The researchers also discovered that HIV-specific T cell receptors have to be matched to an individual in much the same way an organ is matched to a transplant patient.
In this current study, the researchers similarly engineered human blood stem cells and found that they can form mature T cells that can attack HIV in tissues where the virus resides and replicates. They did so by using a surrogate model, the humanized mouse, in which HIV infection closely resembles the disease and its progression in humans.
So the too-long, didn’t-read version of all of this: human stem cells were altered to attack HIV-infected cells in specific people, and when tested on mice, a mammal with roughly the same reaction to HIV as humans, it proved successful. Which is totally awesome if you ever planned on fucking a mouse, I guess. Not sure how that would technically work, but still . . . progress is progress.