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How doctors are re-engineering the immune system to fight HIV infection

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d1373 (Published 01 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1373
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. 1Boston

An important step towards a possible cure for HIV was unveiled at the 18th Conference on Retroviruses in Boston, Massachusetts on 28 February. It involves changing the genes of a patient’s immune cells so that they are nearly invulnerable to infection by the virus.

The phase I safety study includes only six patients, and the data are only an interim six month analysis. But all patients show a substantial increase in the number of CD4 T cells, a key part of the immune system in which HIV replicates. Most of those cells are resistant to HIV.

The science behind it is complex. The virus most commonly infects a CD4 cell by grabbing on to a co-receptor molecule on the surface of the cell called CCR5. However, a genetic mutation inherited from both parents prevents that …

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