T-cells are key components in the immune system and lead the body's fight against infection. The AIDS virus destroys T-cells, and people with AIDS typically die from unusual infections people with healthy immune systems do not get, such as pneumocystis pneumonia.
The work was done at the UCLA AIDS Institute and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, where scientists led by Zoran Galic and Jerome Zack incubated human embryonic stem cells on mouse bone marrow support cells.
The researchers explained that stem cells are blank slates that decide how they will mature based on the biological environment in which they find themselves. The mouse bone marrow encouraged the human stem cells to develop into blood-forming (hematopoietic) cells. The new hematopoietic cells were then injected into a human thymus gland implanted in a mouse, and the thymus gland (where T-cells develop) changed them into T-cells.
The team hopes their process will lead to new therapies for AIDS and other T-cell diseases, such as severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome or "bubble boy disease." The study is online at http://www.pnas.org/papbyrecent.shtml.