Overview

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, crippling its ability to fight off disease or infection. Without treatment of the HIV infection, the body progresses to the final stage of disease, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS develops when HIV has sufficiently destroyed the immune system, leaving individuals susceptible to disease and infection, and unable to fight them off. Symptoms progressively worsen and eventually lead to death.

The CDC estimated that in 2010, more than 1.148 million people in the U.S. were infected with HIV. There is also a significant global burden of this disease; in 2014, over 37 million people were infected with HIV worldwide.

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people are infected with HIV, and in 2015, an additional 40,000 were diagnosed. 1 in 8 of them don’t know they’re infected.

Stem cell approaches to treating people with HIV primarily involve reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. There is a natural precedent for this idea as there is a very small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has dedicated almost $73 million to HIV/AIDS research.

Progress Towards A Cure

Stem cell approaches to treating people with HIV primarily involve reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. There is a natural precedent for this idea, as there is a very small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to a rare genetic mutation known as CCR5-delta 32 . The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has dedicated almost $73 million to HIV/AIDS research.

CIRM-funded teams are taking a number of different approaches to HIV/AIDS treatment, with potential therapies being tested in human clinical trial. A team at City of Hope and Sangamo Therapeutics takes blood stem cells (the precursors to all the immune cells in the body) from HIV-infected patients, and genetically modifies them to become HIV-resistant. These modified blood stem cells are then infused back into the patient.

Stem cell approaches to treating people with HIV primarily involve reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant.

Another group at the University of California, Davis, takes a similar approach: isolating blood stem cells from an HIV-infected person, modifying the cells to become resistant to HIV by blocking the ability of HIV to infect cells at several stages, and then re-introducing just the engineered stem cells after a purification step.

A study sponsored by Calimmune Inc. is testing both immune cells and stem cells that have been genetically modified ex vivo to be HIV-resistant and are then transplanted back into the patient.

Once the patient receives those modified, HIV-resistant blood stem cells, they could begin to rebuild an entirely new immune system that would have the potential to block HIV infection, thereby offering an approach to both cure and prevent HIV infection.

Human clinical trials are underway to test these therapies in HIV-infected patients. Importantly, if this approach can be shown to work in HIV/AIDS, it can also be applied to certain immune disorders, cancers, and more.

These tremendous milestones of progress would not have been possible without the hard work, advocacy and support of the HIV/AIDS patient advocate community. HIV advocates have been driving policy in support of medical research for over 20 years, and continue to be an incredibly strong force today.