Researchers at Stanford University, California, USA, have created HIV-resistant T-cells, a breakthrough that, if proven successful in humans, could potentially stop the virus from developing into AIDS.
The discovery which was announced last week in Molecular Therapy, is believed to have potential to replace lifelong drug treatments and protect the immune systems of those infected.
A press release by Stanford said the new study describes the use of a kind of molecular scissors to cut and paste a series of HIV-resistant genes into T-cells.
By inactivating a receptor gene and inserting additional anti-HIV genes, the virus was blocked from entering the cells, thus preventing it from destroying the immune system.
HIV works by entering and ultimately killing an individual's T-cells, leading to a collapse of the immune system.
Researchers were quick to point out that the therapy is not a cure for HIV, but rather a method to make patients immune to it.
Dr. Matthew Porteus, the study's principal researcher, stated that the goal is to build an immune system that is resistant to HIV.
"Once a person contracts HIV, they become susceptible to all sorts of infections and cancers, and that's what kills the patient ultimately-not the virus," he explained.
In theory, a percentage of a patient's T-cells could be replaced with the HIV-resistant cells. As the HIV-sensitive cells would die off, the resistant cells would reproduce, eventually creating an immune system of entirely HIV-resistant cells.
"The body has an incredible way of balancing itself. The virus would have no more cells to infect."
Currently, doctors use drug therapy to help achieve this affect. But because HIV mutates, many patients must take dozens of pills a day for the rest of their lives. Should the gene therapy prove successful, the pills would no longer be necessary.
Further, Porteus explained: "What we've done in our study is showing that we can add multiple layers of protection, creating what is essentially a complete resistance to HIV."
The Stanford breakthrough is one of several increasingly positive studies in the fight against HIV.
If the researchers can create immune systems that are protected against HIV, there could be a situation where there would be a fully-functioning immune system with a low level of HIV infection that wouldn't cause any problems.
The plan is to conduct more laboratory work before starting animal testing. There are hopes to begin testing on humans within the next five years.