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City Researchers Work to Edit Genes to Resist HIV

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In recent months NY1 has reported on several advances achieved toward finding a cure for HIV, one of which is editing genes to become resistant to the virus. Some of the clinical trials took place right here in the city. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Joey Lopez has been living with HIV for 18 years.

He went on antiretroviral treament eight years ago. Then, in 2010, he agreed to participate in a study that looked to alter his genes in search of a cure.

"I thought about all the other people that have done some sort of clinical trial to create a medication that has helped not only keep other people alive, but has helped me stay alive. They took that risk and I felt that it was my obligation to also do that," says Lopez.

It was a risk, says Dr. David Stein, the lead investigator for the study, conducted in part at Jacobi Medical Center.

"If you take a drug, at some point that drug is out of the system. We’re modifying peoples T-cells and those T-cells are persisting for years," Stein says.

The human immunodeficiency virus attacks T-cells—white blood cells that are vital to a healthy immune system.

Some people are naturally resistant to HIV, however. The study focused on mimicking their cell behavior.

"Those individuals lack a certain receptor, a protein on the surface of their cells that prevents the virus from getting into those cells. We cut the gene that makes that protein on those T-cells and then we gave those T-cells back and the object was to see if those cells were now protected," Stein says.

Stein says so far they've seen the T-cells among participants significantly increase. The procedure was only done with a small amount of cells in just 12 patients, however—five at Jacobi, the others at the University of Pennsylvania. It was just the first safety phase of the trials.

Lopez says he's noticed a difference.

"I feel great. You know, I have more energy," Lopez says.

It's too soon to call it a cure, but the work is helping to pave the way.

"It's incredibly exciting," Stein says.

It's a far cry from where treatment was when Lopez was first diagnosed.

"I’m just happy to be alive to see this happen, that this could possibly lead to something that many people thought probably we wouldn’t see in our lifetime," Lopez says.

Phase two of the study is ongoing at other institutions.

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