Researchers Investigating Ways to Use HIV to Battle Organ Rejection in Transplant Recipients
Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom are investigating ways to use HIV to combat organ rejection in heart transplant recipients, BBC News reports. Dr. Andrew Lever and his team several years ago decoded the process that HIV uses to insert new genetic material into virus particles. They are now using that mechanism to deliver "therapeutic" genes that will assist in fighting organ rejection to the organ transplant site. The researchers are using "harmless" HIV that has had its genetic material removed as an "envelope" to deliver the genes. HIV's ability to invade non-dividing cells makes it particularly useful for this approach. "I'd much rather HIV didn't exist but it has given us a unique property which is the capability of delivering genes into particular cells," Lever said. Using the modified HIV, the researchers "inject genes into the heart tissue that will secrete a molecule that suppresses the immune system in the local vicinity," according to Lever, who added, "The idea is that the heart transplant area would act as an immunologically privileged site and would be protected against rejection -- and hopefully the organ would last longer." Lever said his group has tried the procedure in rats, and the results have been "encouraging." He stressed that using HIV as a delivery vehicle for the genes is "completely safe" because the virus's own genetic material, which is what makes it harmful to humans, has been removed. "We modify the virus hugely so that it's not capable of regenerating into a wild type virus," Lever said, adding, "I really look forward to the day when we've conquered HIV in its wild form and are using its useful characteristics to treat diseases -- using methods we haven't got at the moment." Other researchers are testing the technique on brain and liver cells (Amos, BBC News, 9/10). Researchers believe the technique could also one day be used to treat conditions such as cystic fibrosis, heart disease and hemophilia (Radford, Guardian, 9/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.