Stem Cell Therapy could eradicate HIV

A groundbreaking study found that stem cells reduce the amount of virus causing AIDS, boost the body’s antiviral immunity and restore the gut’s lymphoid follicles damaged by HIV. This provided a strategy in the eradication of HIV.

Although antiretroviral therapy can suppress HIV replication, it does not eliminate viral reservoirs or restore damaged lymphoid tissue, posing obstacles to HIV eradication. In a study published by a group of researchers from the University of California- Davis Health, using the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) model of AIDS (the equivalent to the human HIV in non-human primates). They investigated the effect of Mesenchymal Stem cells (MSC) infusions on gut mucosal recovery, antiviral immunity and viral suppression and determined associated molecular signatures.

HIV disease progression is characterized by CD4+ T cell loss, chronic immune activation, and immune dysfunction. The current therapy (antiretroviral therapy, ART) is effective in suppressing HIV replication and reducing morbidity and mortality, but is unable to restore the immune functions.

The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is an early site for viral replication and establishment of stable viral reservoirs. One early effect of HIV infection includes severe depletion of gut mucosal CD4+ T cells and the epithelial barrier disruption. In the study, they used Bone marrow-derived MSCs in SIV-infected macaques with AIDS to investigate if the administration of MSCs would reduce gut inflammation and restore mucosal lymphoid functions. The researchers found out that MSCs treatment restored mucosal lymphoid follicles, which correlates with viral suppression and immune recovery.

The infected macaques treated with MSCs had induction of activated memory B cells, elevated SIV envelope-specific antibodies and increased CD8+ (cytotoxic) T cell functions. This led to decreased viral load (quantity of virus in the organism) and clearance of SIV-RNA positive cells from the gut.

MSCs also offer an opportunity for an innovative, multi-pronged HIV cure strategy by complementing current HIV treatments. Even without the use of antiviral drugs, MSCs were able to increase the host’s antiviral response by repairing the lymphoid follicles, restoring the mucosal immunity and reviving what has been targeted by the virus very early on. MSCs also offer an opportunity for an innovative, multi-pronged HIV cure strategy by complementing current HIV treatments.

The University of UC Davis Stem Cell Program is also leading multiple clinical trials on MSCs use in treating diseases such as spina bifida and Hungtington’s disease.

Source: Mariana G. Weber, et all. Gut germinal center regeneration and enhanced antiviral immunity by mesenchymal stem/stromal cells in SIV infection. JCI Insight, 2021.

University of California – Davis Health. “Roadmap to HIV eradication via stem cell therapy: Study uncovers stem cells’ ability to restore immunity and repair gut damage caused by HIV.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2021. 

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