The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is to blame for one of the worst public health crises the world has ever experienced. The causal agent behind the spectrum of disorders known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), HIV has claimed the lives of 35 million people since 1981, and remained front-page news for decades.
HIV is no longer the terror it began as, however. Many millions of people infected by this deadly virus live healthy lives today. A 20-year-old with HIV is expected to live in to their 70s, largely due to the development of antiretroviral therapies that suppress viral reproduction and prevent HIV from advancing to AIDS. But such treatments are not perfect, requiring strict compliance and sometimes proving ineffective against a rapidly-evolving virus that successfully evades the immune system’s attempts to suppress it.
Fortunately, medicine is evolving too. Among many promising treatments, new therapies have been developed that target the virus using Chimeric Antigen Receptor engineered T ( CAR-T ) cells. Researchers arm these immune cells with specialized receptors and localization signals that target HIV, and the results so far have been impressive. According to a March 2017 study:
The treatment or cure of HIV infection by cell and gene ther-apy has been a goal for decades. Recent advances in both gene editing and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology have created new therapeutic possibilities …. [P]rimary human T cells engineered to express anti-HIV CARs …. show specific activation and killing of HIV-infected versus uninfected cells in the absence of HIV replication.
On this episode of Talking Biotech, biologist Pamela Skinner, professor at the University of Minnesota, joins University of Florida plant geneticist Kevin Folta to discuss her collaborative efforts to develop CAR-T cell based therapies for HIV. While the virus still poses a major threat to public health, Skinner says she is optimistic about the success of these novel approaches.
The Talking Biotech podcast, produced by Kevin Folta, is available for listening or subscription: