Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Engineered cells seek out and kill HIV in living organisms


April 13, 2012

Scientists have used genetically engineered stem cells to seek out and kill HIV-infected cells (pictured) in mice

Scientists have used genetically engineered stem cells to seek out and kill HIV-infected cells (pictured) in mice

Although there is currently no cure for HIV, the body does already contain cells that fight the virus – the problem is, there just aren’t enough of them to completely get rid of it. In 2009, scientists at UCLA performed a proof-of-concept experiment, in which they were able to grow these CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes (better known as infection-fighting “T cells”) from genetically engineered human stem cells. Now, in a subsequent study, they have demonstrated that these engineered cells can seek out and kill HIV-infected cells in a living organism.

In the previous project, the researchers took T cells from an HIV-infected individual, and isolated the T cell receptor within them – this is what allows the cells to identify and destroy cells infected with HIV. They proceeded to clone this receptor, then used it to genetically engineer human blood stem cells. These cells were then placed in human thymus tissue, that had itself been implanted in mice, where they proceeded to grow into HIV-specific T cells.

While the study indicated that it was possible to create genetically engineered HIV-fighting cells in the body, it didn’t test how those cells fared against HIV in a living organism. The more recent study, however, did.

This time around, similarly engineered HIV-specific T cells were introduced into infected “humanized mice” – lab mice that have been genetically engineered to carry human genes, cells or tissues. Two to six weeks later, tests were performed on the peripheral blood, plasma and organs of those mice. It was found that not only had the level of HIV in the bloodstream decreased, but the number of CD4 “helper” T cells had increased – CD4s are white blood cells that play a key role in fighting off infections, and they normally decrease in the event of HIV infection.

According to the scientists, these results indicated that the introduced T cells had developed and migrated to the organs, where they fought the HIV infection. They did note, however, that even in humanized mice, HIV may mutate slower than it does in humans. This means that multiple T cell receptors might have to be used, to account for the higher likelihood of the virus mutating in humans. To that end, the researchers have now begun creating receptors that target specific parts of the HIV virus.

"We believe that this study lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body," said lead investigator Scott G. Kitchen.

A paper on the study was published yesterday in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Source: UCLA

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Since the T cells are the very cells infected by the Virus, would it not be better to use geneticly modified T cells which have no function but to absorb the current Virus then bind to and kill cells with the current Virus protein. Anything which infects the T cell must afterall be a hosile Virus entity.

This reminds me of the worlds Governments attempts to immunise against Flu with last years Virus. Getting a small sample and waiting eight months for a vaccine to be created from it in a vast population with the most rapidy evolving and mutating form of virus shows up the mindset of fools. The virus is still totally at large, and cannot be controlled yet billions are spent to give the appearence of doing something.


What about DRACO? http://www.gizmag.com/draco-antiviral-drug/19482/

Patrik Nordberg


This article is given in layman's terms. There are a lot of factors that neither of us would be aware of in this type of study.

Alex Lekander

L1ma - "Since the T cells are the very cells infected by the Virus, would it not be better to use geneticly modified T cells . . . "

HIV infects CD4+ T cells (helper T cells) not CD8+ T cells (cytotoxic T cells). The virus actually uses the cell surface CD4 molecule present on helper T cells (along with the chemokine CRCX4 receptor molecules) to enter the target cell. Cytotoxic T cells do not have CD4 molecules and therefore aren't infected by HIV.

Justinian Code


How could you totally focus on that one point and gloss over the incredible work that they have done.

genetically engineered human stem cells that became Tcells and did what they built them to do.

This type of work is universally applicable to so many areas of research and will be advancing this and many other areas of this type of medical research.

I think they deserve some serious respect.


The Holly Grail is a genetically engineered plant designed to kill a genetic bomb of the future

Stewart Mitchell
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles