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Stem Cells Turned Into AIDS Killers in Lab Tests

Technique might work with many other viruses, researchers say

FRIDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've shown that human stem cells can be turned into cells that can kill those infected by the virus that causes AIDS.

Potentially, they say, the approach could target other viral diseases.

"We have demonstrated in this proof-of-principle study that this type of approach can be used to engineer the human immune system, particularly the T-cell response, to specifically target HIV-infected cells," lead investigator Scott G. Kitchen, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a school news release.

The research lays "the foundation for further therapeutic development that involves restoring damaged or defective immune responses toward a variety of viruses that cause chronic disease, or even different types of tumors," he said.

The researchers tried to clone cells in the immune system known as "killer" T-cells. They succeeded by coaxing engineered stem cells to develop into the immune cells, although they must be matched to individual people.

The next step is to see if the approach will work in humans, study co-author Jerome A. Zack, a professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology at UCLA, said in a statement.

"This approach could be used to combat a variety of chronic viral diseases," Zack said. "It's like a genetic vaccine."

The study was published online Dec. 7 in PLoS ONE.

More information

Learn more about AIDS from the CDC.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Dec. 7, 2009.

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