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Gene Therapy Shows Promise Against HIV
Date:2/19/2010

Early findings suggest it could work, but application remains years away

FRIDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A new study is among the first to hint that gene therapy could become a weapon against the virus that causes AIDS.

However, any treatment remains far from being ready for use by patients, and would likely be expensive, experts said.

Still, the research is "a step in the direction of using gene therapy" to treat HIV patients, said Dr. Pablo Tebas, co-author of a new study and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Existing AIDS drugs allow many patients to live fairly normal lives despite being infected with HIV. But they can cause a variety of side effects, and some patients become immune to them over time.

"The next big challenge is going to be: Can you cure the infection or control it to a level that allows patients to not take these expensive and complex medications that can be toxic?" Tebas said.

One possible solution is to help the body fight off HIV without the use of drugs. That's where gene therapy comes in, Tebas said. "Can you make the patient resistant so they can control HIV on their own?"

In the new study, the Pennsylvania team tested a gene therapy approach in which scientists first remove immune cells from patients, tinker with their genes and then put them back into the bodies of the patients.

Eight HIV-infected people took part in the study. After the genetically modified cells were placed back into the patients, "we stopped HIV treatment and tried to see what happened," Tebas said.

The findings are scheduled to be reported this week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in San Francisco.

The levels of HIV fell below the expected levels in seven of the eight patients, the team found. Signs of the virus disappeared altogether in one patient, although that happens sometimes -- it
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