This is just another excuse to poke fun at the stupidity of Creationists–
Creationists try to lecture us all the time about how ‘perfect’ our immune system is. How wonderful and precise and intelligently designed it is obviously points towards the existence of a creator god (aka the Christian god).
Well, if our immune system is the best their god can do, then we should all be worshiping HIV-1, because its ‘smarter’. Its been outwitting our immune systems for well over a century, and outwitting some of the best thinkers of our time and the best technology we have to offer for three decades.
But HIVs number might be up very soon.
With a combination of knowledge, technology, and insanity, scientists (including myself) are subverting our immune systems ‘natural’ processes, and genetically modifying cells to have the ‘right’ answer to HIV-1. The immune system no longer has to bumble, stumble, blindly get itself caught in a corner, trying to find the ‘right’ answer to a pathogen.
We can tell the immune cells the right answer.
A group of scientists just published one way of doing that:
Briefly, there are ‘flags’ that are on the surface of all of your cells that tell your CD8+ T-cells (Cytotoxic T-cells, CTLs) what proteins it is making. The CTLs know what is ‘normal’. If they see a protein flag that is not ‘normal’, eg a viral protein, they gently persuade the infected cell to commit suicide.
But CTLs do not recognize SELF, NONSELF in a binary manner. CTLs dont see SELF at all. CTLs have a receptor, TCR, that can only see a very specific NONSELF. If that NONSELF matches up with something HIV-1 makes, and that CTL ‘sees’ an HIV infected cell, the infected cell dies.
So this means that to get rid of all the HIV-1 infected cells, you have to have the right CTLs that can see the HIV-1 protein, at the right place (who cares if the right CTL is in the liver, when the HIV infected cells are in the thymus), at the right concentration (who cares if you have one right CTL at the right place if there are 10^6 infected cells and counting).
And then theres HIV-1 itself. It has the ability to change the protein the CTL can see to a different protein that the CTL cant see.
Is it any wonder that CTLs have a rough time clearing HIV-1 infection.
So these folks got an idea: Lets genetically modify cells to give the immune system a LOT of the ‘right’ CTLs.
Basically, they want to Zerg rush HIV with anti-HIV CTLs.
To test this, they used a humanized mouse model (mouse with a human-like immune system, because mice cannot be infected with HIV-1). Some of the mice they left alone, some they infected with HIV-1, and some they infected with HIV-1 AND genetically modified the immune cells to express the anti-HIV receptor.
The mice that got the ‘right’ anti-HIV receptor had about half the number of infected cells as the mice with immune systems that were left to figure out things on their own.
The mice that got the ‘right’ anti-HIV receptor were also able to maintain much higher CD4 counts over time (though as time went on, they still dropped far below normal).
So, is this paper good? Yup!
Is it a cure for HIV-1 infection? Nope!
This paper is a cool step in a novel direction. There are still lots of caveats (you would have to tailor the genetic modification for everyones particular HLA type, HIV-1 would undoubtedly evolve around this, as it already has in nature), but the HIV field needs to take steps in new directions, however small they might be.