They separated T-cell receptor encoding genes that attach more strongly to HIV-1, says Nature Medicine article.

A group of researchers report engineering killer T cells so that they recognize HIV-1 strains. The scientists gave killer T cells a new version of the natural T-cell receptor and also isolated a group of T-cell receptor encoding genes that bind to HIV-1 about 450-fold more strongly.

“Not only could T cells engineered to express the strongly binding T-cell receptor see HIV strains that had escaped detection by natural T cells, but the engineered T cells responded in a much more vigorous fashion so that far fewer T cells were required to control infection,” says cosenior author James Riley, Ph.D., research associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The scientists acknowledge that HIV’s chameleon-like ability may still prevent the virus from being completely flushed out of the body. It could mutate and change its fingerprint further to evade detection. Each time the virus mutates, though, it appears to become less powerful, the researchers add. 

“Even if we do only cripple the virus, this will still be a good outcome, as it is likely to become a much slower target and be easier to pick off,” according to Andy Sewell, Ph.D., professor at University of Cardiff. “Forcing the virus to a weaker state would likely reduce its capacity to transmit within the population and may help slow or even prevent the onset of AIDS in individuals.”

Researchers hope to begin clinical trials using the engineered T cells in patients with advanced HIV infection next year. The current study is published online today in Nature Medicine.

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