Major advance’ seen in gene therapy to fight AIDS

PARIS: The world’s largest experiment using gene therapy to combat the AIDS virus has yielded ‘a major advance’, demonstrating that the technique is both beneficial and safe, scientists said on Sunday.

Data from an advanced phase of the test process confirms that the quest to use transplanted genes to roll back the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is valid, they said.

Doctors, led by Ronald Mitsuyasu of the University of California in Los Angeles, recruited 74 HIV-infected volunteers for the experiment, whose results have been reported online by the journal Nature Medicine. Half the group were given blood stem-cells infiltrated by a crippled virus containing a key gene, while the other were given a harmless look-a-like substance.
The gene encodes an RNA enzyme which in intended to block HIV from replicating once it infects a cell. One hundred weeks after the OZ1 experiment began, the viral count in the gene group was significantly lower than before. And the count of CD4 cells – immune cells depleted by HIV – was higher. The stock of new blood cells, though, became rather depleted. It shows… [it] can be developed as a conventional therapeutic product. afp

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