US researchers have found a way to genetically manipulate human embryonic stem cells so they grow into mature disease-fighting T-cells - a discovery they say might help in the development of gene therapy against Aids.
T-cells are one of the body's main defences against disease. In this study, researchers demonstrated that it is possible to convert embryonic stem cells into blood-forming stem cells that, in turn, can turn into the helper T-cells. These are the T-cells that are specifically targeted by HIV, the virus that causes Aids.
The study was conducted by a team from the University of California, Los Angeles, Aids Institute and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine.
The findings, published this week in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark the first time scientists have been able to derive T-cells out of human embryonic stem cells.
An important weapon against Aids
"This tells you that you may be able to use human embryonic stem cells to treat T-cell and other blood diseases," lead researcher Zoran Galic, an assistant research biologist, said in a prepared statement. "This could be a very important weapon in the fight against Aids."
The human embryonic stem cells were incubated on mouse bone marrow support cells, which converted the embryonic stem cells into blood-forming cells. These blood-forming cells were then injected into a human thymus gland that had been implanted in a mouse. The thymus gland converted the blood-forming cells into T-cells.
The thymus, located just above the heart in humans, is where T-cells develop.
The study results suggest it's possible to decipher the signals that control the development of embryonic stem cells into T-cells, noted study co-author Jerome Zack, associate director of the UCLA Aids Institute.
"That way we can eventually repopulate the immune system in patients needing T-cells," Zack said in a prepared statement. – (HealthDayNews)