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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Gene therapy may block HIV spread
Aids ribbon
There is no cure for HIV
Three people with HIV have had a new experimental treatment to try to help them fight the disease.

Scientists in the United States have used gene therapy techniques to try to boost their immune systems.

Initial results from the trial have been promising, according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

VIRxSYS, the company behind the technique, says it will test it on another two patients shortly, before embarking on a larger trial.

Re-engineered cells

The technique involves taking T cells from patients and re-engineering them so that they can destroy HIV.

T cells are a type of white blood cell that can identify and destroy invading viruses.

This is probably the most exciting of the anti-HIV strategies around at the moment
Professor Alan Kingsman,
Oxford BioMedica
These cells are treated with a "gutted" form of HIV in the laboratory, which has been genetically engineered to stop HIV in the body from replicating and spreading.

After the cells have been treated in this way, they are re-introduced into the body where they lie in wait until HIV attacks.

The idea is that the re-engineered cells will paralyse HIV and prevent it from spreading to other cells.

It does this be cutting up the virus and inserting its own genetic material, which is designed not to spread.

The three patients who have received the treatment so far have all been resistant to some of the drugs normally used to treat the virus.

The first patient was treated last July. The company was recently given the go-ahead to try it on two more people.

Scientists at VIRxSYS hope their VRX496 treatment will prove to be effective.

The current trial is designed to find out if the treatment is safe. The initial results suggest it is.

"No adverse events related to VRX496 have been observed in the first three patients," said Boro Drupulic, the firm's chief scientific officer.

"We are similarly encouraged that, to date, the viral load results are not above pre-dose levels and CD4 counts have remained stable."

The second phase of the trial, which will only begin when all the results from the first have been collated, will start to show how effective it is.

'Exciting strategy'

Professor Alan Kingsman, chief executive of Oxford BioMedica which has carried out research in this area in the past, said the trial was promising.

"This is probably the most exciting of the anti-HIV strategies around at the moment," he told BBC News Online.

"They are using a well-established technique to chop up HIV. It is an interesting approach."

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New way to tackle HIV
02 Jan 02  |  Health

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