Pulse 101: Another HIV Remission Confirms Therapy Option

11 March 2019
Giulio Prisco

HIV Blood Test

Scientists have reported the achievement of sustained remission from HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, in a patient (see below). This is the second reported case since a similar case reported 10 years ago.

Both patients, referred to as "Berlin" and "London," were treated with stem cell transplants from donors carrying a genetic mutation that prevents expression of an HIV receptor CCR5.

“By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly, and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people,” said UCL Professor Ravindra Gupta.

SingularityHub notes that another study, presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Washington, reports that another patient, who received a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia, seems to be HIV-free.

“The common denominator among the three is that they all received blood stem cell transplants for blood cancer,” emphasizes SingularityHub. “Warding off HIV was almost a lucky side-effect.”

It seems worth noting that Chinese scientists have recently used CRISPR to edit the genome of twin babies before birth (see Pulse 8990) to make them immune to infection by HIV by eliminating CCR5. Due to an interesting side effect of the procedure, the twins might also turn out smarter than average (see Pulse 99).

Stem cell transplant achieves sustained remission from HIV-1. Researchers at University College London (UCL), Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, and University of Oxford, have reported that a patient has experienced sustained remission from HIV-1 after ceasing treatment. According to the results of a study published in Nature, this second patient has been in remission for 18 months after his antiretroviral therapy was discontinued.

Efficient CRISPR gene editing for DMD and perhaps other diseases. Scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a method to boost the efficiency of CRISPR gene editing in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The new method, described in a research paper published in Science Advances, could improve CRISPR as a therapy for Duchenne and perhaps a number of other diseases. In fact, the researchers are persuaded that the findings could permit optimizing gene therapies for other diseases as well.

Diclofenac boosts cardiac reprogramming. Researchers at University of Tsukuba have found that diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, enhances “cardiac reprogramming” - reprogramming body cells such as fibroblasts into heart muscle cells. A study published in Nature Communications reports that diclofenac functioned during early-stage reprogramming by silencing the cellular signature associated with fibroblasts and inhibiting COX-2 and other molecules associated with inflammation. The drug could therefore be used to improve cardiac reprogramming associated with aging. It’s worth noting that diclofenac is thought to have anti-cancer properties as well.

Regeneration mechanisms in salamanders have implications for human patients. Scientists at Marine Biological Laboratory have identified gene “partners” in the axolotl salamander that, when activated, allow the neural tube and associated nerve fibers to functionally regenerate after severe spinal cord damage. Interestingly, these genes, described in a research paper published in Communications Biology, are also present in humans, though they are activated in a different manner. According to the researchers, the findings have “a huge translation potential” for spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative diseases in human patients.

New vaccine strategy for tuberculosis. Researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute are making progress in the quest for an efficient vaccine strategy for tuberculosis. A recent experiment performed in laboratory mice, described in a study published in Mucosal Immunology, showed great promise. The scientists modified an existing FDA-approved vaccine, called BCG, and developed a new vaccine that can be delivered through a spray inhaler and does not cause any lung tissue damage.

Promising preliminary results for new pancreatic cancer therapy. Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, have discovered a combination drug therapy that may effectively combat pancreatic cancer. The combination therapy, described in a study published in Nature Medicine, uses two drugs - Trametinib and Hydroxychloroquine - already approved by the FDA for other diseases, including cancer. The new drug combination is administered through pills taken orally. The scientists first observed anti-cancer impacts in a laboratory setting and, subsequently, in a human patient. The study has already progressed to a clinical trial that is now open at HCI and will soon be open at other sites in the United States.

Fast quantum sensor for cancer monitoring. Scientists at University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and Eindhoven University of Technology have developed a new quantum sensor that promises significant advancements in long-range 3D imaging and monitoring the success of cancer treatments. A research paper published in Nature Nanotechnology describes the next generation quantum sensor, which is so fast and efficient that it can absorb and detect a single particle of light, called a photon, and refresh for the next one within nanoseconds. The researchers created an array of tapered nanowires that turn incoming photons into electric current that can be amplified and detected.

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