Pa. Scientists Announce HIV Breakthrough

Published 03/06 2014 03:50PM

Updated 03/06 2014 05:35PM

Some Pennsylvania researchers say they've  made a potential breakthrough in the fight against HIV. 
Jay Johnson has been HIV positive for more than 20 years. He considers himself lucky since he has remained healthy, but says his drugs are a daily reminder he has the virus.

"I would love to say one day I'm HIV negative," Jay says, "and to be able to come off of meds and not have to have that hanging over my head."

That's why Jay decided to enroll in a gene therapy study at University of Pennsylvania. Researchers say they were able to genetically modify the immune cells of 12 HIV Positive patients to make the T-cells, a type of white blood cell,  resist infection.
"That might be a step towards eventually making the immune system of the patient resistant to HIV," Dr. Pablo Tebas of Penn Center for AIDS Research says.

In the laboratory, researchers mimicked a gene mutation in the patients cells, removing a protein the HIV virus needs to infect cells. The altered cells were then put back into the patients.  Dr. Tebas says the therapy decreased the virus in some patients, including one who had no detectable levels of HIV.

About 8 months ago, Jay's doctors told him modified T cells are still circulating in his body. He says, "if I could stop the virus form being within me, it would just be absolutely wonderful

Researchers say if they can make the immune system resistant to HIV, it could mean patients like Jay would no longer need their medications. 

Next, doctors plan to expand their research to a larger group of patients. 

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