14 Oct Stem Cells Being Explored as a Treatment for HIV
HIV is not the devastating disease that it used to be. We have created medications and treatments to prevent it from ever progressing into AIDS and killing patients. We are now studying stem cells as a treatment method of patients with HIV and damaged immune systems.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off infections. Untreated HIV infects and kills CD4 cells, which are a type of immune cell called T cells. Over time, as HIV kills more CD4 cells, the body is more likely to get various types of infections and cancers. HIV is sexually transmitted and can be transmitted through bodily fluids as well. The virus doesn’t spread in air or water, or through casual contact. The first few weeks after someone contracts, HIV is called the acute infection stage. During this time, the virus reproduces rapidly. The person’s immune system responds by producing HIV antibodies. These are proteins that fight infection.
During this stage, some people have no symptoms at first. However, many people experience symptoms in the first month or two after contracting the virus, but often don’t realize HIV is causing them. This is because symptoms of the acute stage can be very similar to those of the flu or other seasonal viruses. They may be mild to severe, they may come and go, and they may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. HIV is a lifelong condition, and currently, there is no cure, although many scientists are working to find one.
However, with medical care, including a treatment called antiretroviral therapy, it’s possible to manage HIV and live with the virus for many years. Without treatment, a person with HIV is likely to develop a serious condition called AIDS. At that point, the immune system is too weak to fight off other diseases and infections. With antiretroviral therapy, HIV can be well-controlled, and life expectancy can be nearly the same as someone who has not contracted HIV. AIDS is a disease that can develop in people with HIV. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. But just because a person has HIV doesn’t mean they’ll develop AIDS. A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection or cancer that’s rare in people who don’t have HIV. An opportunistic infection, such as pneumonia, is one that takes advantage of a unique situation, such as HIV.
Untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS within a decade. There’s no cure for AIDS, and without treatment, life expectancy after diagnosis is about three years. This may be shorter if the person develops a severe opportunistic illness. However, treatment with antiretroviral drugs can prevent AIDS from developing. If AIDS does develop, it means that the immune system is severely compromised. It’s weakened to the point where it can no longer fight off most diseases and infections.
How Can Stem Cells Treat HIV Patients?
Researchers believe that they will be able to transplant healthy stem cells into the immune systems of HIV patients, and slowly eradicated the diseased cells. They are still in the early clinical trials of discovery. These stem cells will be programmed to have antibodies to protect against HIV infected T-cells and train the body to eliminate them naturally. More studies need to be done before it’s a safe treatment for patients with HIV.