February/March #121 : Into The Genes - by Laura Whitehorn

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Table of Contents
 

A Positive Attraction

10 Black AIDS Warriors to Watch




Love Yourself

Why...-Feb/March 2006

Into The Genes

$ for Drugs

Breaking The Ice

Don't Let HIV Bug Your Bed

Inch By Inch

Trainer’s Bench - Feb/March 2006

Face Forward

Ask the Sexperts-Feb/March 2006

Food Play




Porn Again

The Final Score

Team HIV

Cruising

Buzz-Feb/March 2006

Our Man In Africa

Earthwatch-Feb/March 2006

Mentors-Feb/March 2006




Mailbox-Feb/March 2006

Founder's Letter-Feb/March 2006



Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle

Shingles

Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV



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February / March 2006


Into The Genes

by Laura Whitehorn

Can a far-out therapy check HIV?

From sci-fi to sci-fact: A few HIV studies are actually morphing people’s genes. Though small, the trials have an ambitious goal: getting immune systems to control HIV—eventually, the plan goes, without an HIV combo. The therapies change the genetic material in your white blood cells—mature CD4 cells in some cases, stem cells in others—so they can disable the virus. They’re still in early tests but are showing some promise. Meet two positive men—one a treatment veteran, the other with no med resistance—playing guinea pig in different studies (find these and others at www.clinicaltrials.gov).

The Longtimer
Timothy Spaulding, 47
Retired government worker
Lexington, KY
Diagnosed 1991

The History
I changed meds frequently due to side effects. I also had adherence problems due to job demands—so now I’m resistant to a slew of meds. By 2004, my options were few. Since then, I’d been doing OK on Fuzeon with Viread and Combivir, but my numbers started sliding again earlier this year. So my doctor found a gene therapy trial, and I became Patient No. 8.

The Theory
A gene inserted in my CD4s binds with HIV’s genetic material, preventing the virus from reproducing.

The Procedure
My CD4s were harvested—a five-hour process. They extract whole blood out of one arm. A machine removes the white blood cells. The rest is injected back into the other arm. Then the CD4s are mixed with VRX496, a distorted version of HIV. A few weeks later, the mixture is dripped into my arm—it takes about 15 minutes. I’ve had three infusions so far. I should get eight over 16 weeks. I stay on my combo.

The Results
The day after each procedure, I feel fatigued, but then I snap back. After the third infusion, my viral load was too high (and CD4s low) to get the fourth. Recently it fell again. I got No. 4—and it seems I’m back on track.

The Outlook
I have hope. Every time I’ve hit bottom in my life with HIV, something has come along to help. The worst case: This buys me some more years, and by then I hope we’ll have a whole new class of meds—entry inhibitors—available. Best case—the researchers say they will monitor me for 15 years. I’d like that.


The Newcomer
Michael Delane, 41
Credentials manager
San Francisco
Diagnosed 2002

The History
At diagnosis, my viral load was in the millions, CD4s at 924. I felt sick, so I started meds. I was 100% adherent and got my viral load undetectable, but my CD4s kept falling. My doctor called my HIV aggressive. I want to be aggressive, too, so I signed up for a two-year gene therapy study to obliterate HIV—right up my alley.

The Theory
My stem cells are genetically altered so they mature into CD4 cells that can resist HIV.

The Procedure
My stem cells were harvested—slow but not painful—and genetically altered to produce an enzyme (ribozyme) that attacks HIV at five points, shredding it. Then the altered stem cells were infused back into my bloodstream. I stayed on my meds until the new stem cells matured into CD4s ready to stop HIV from infecting them
(it took 40 weeks). Then I stopped all meds.

The Results
That was eight months ago. Today, without taking an HIV regimen, I’m holding steady with an undetectable viral load and CD4s ranging from the upper 300s to mid-400s.

The Outlook
I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t know if I’ll stay undetectable forever, but these eight months have been great—no meds, no side effects. I feel like I have control over this stupid monkey virus. I have every confidence that science will soon prevail over HIV. I’m happy to be a part of that.


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