The scientists took CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes — the ‘killer’ T cells that help fight infection — from an HIV-infected individual and identified the molecule which guides the T cell in recognizing and killing HIV-infected cells.
However, these T cells, while able to destroy HIV-infected cells, do not exist in great enough quantities to clear the virus from the body.
So the researchers cloned the receptor and used this to genetically engineer human blood stem cells. They then placed the engineered stem cells into human thymus tissue that had been implanted in mice, allowing them to study the reaction in a living organism. The engineered stem cells developed into a large population of mature, multi-functional HIV-specific cells that could specifically target cells containing HIV proteins.
Areas to think about:
- What obstacles does this research have becoming a practical treatment? Consider practical, financial and ethical issues, and how they may be resolved.
- What other diseases might be amenable to an analogous approach?
- What do you know about the immune system, and the role of T cells within it?