Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and colleagues in the United Kingdom said their achievement has important implications for developing new treatments for HIV.
Natural T cells recognize their targets through weak molecular interactions mediated by the T cell receptor, the researchers said. The scientists were able to isolate a group of T cell receptor encoding genes that bind to HIV-1 about 450 times more strongly.
"Not only could T cells engineered to express the strongly binding T cell receptor see HIV strains that had escaped detection by natural T cells, but the engineered T cells responded in a much more vigorous fashion so that far fewer T cells were required to control infection," said Penn Associate Professor James Riley.
"In the face of our engineered assassin cells, the virus will either die or be forced to change its disguises again, weakening itself along the way," added Professor Andy Sewell of Cardiff University, co-senior author of the study. "We'd prefer the first option, but I suspect we'll see the latter."
The study that included scientists from Britain's Wellcome Trust, Oxford University and Adaptimmune Ltd., a British company that owns the rights to the technology, appears online in the journal Nature Medicine.
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