It is estimated that over one million Americans are infected with the HIV virus. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is an infection that eventually leads to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Once AIDS has set in, most patients die within five years due to complications from cancers, diseases, viruses, or infections. Doctors and researchers are constantly working to discover new treatments for HIV and AIDS.
The CCR5 Gene
Researchers have isolated the gene that allows HIV to enter cells and infect the immune system. This is the CCR5 gene. In 2010, a patient called the Berlin Patient was given a bone marrow transplant containing stem cells as a treatment for leukemia. The donor of the bone marrow had a genetic mutation of the CCR5 gene that made it impossible for HIV to infect the immune system, and the patient was able to stop all medications.
Creating the CCR5 Gene
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people in the world with this genetic mutation to allow for donor cells to be transplanted for every HIV patient. Researchers are now working to develop stem cells into a new immune system for the patient, one that cannot be infected with HIV. This new immune system will be more effective, and all symptoms of HIV could be eliminated. In patients that have not developed AIDS, the prognosis would be very good.
The CCR5 gene with its mutation is being developed from both harvested stem cells and embryonic stem cells. The different clinical trials that are ongoing are looking at new ways to develop the immune system with these mutated cells to completely eradicate the disease. If successful, the treatment could completely change outcomes for millions of people worldwide.