Jay Johnson has been HIV positive for more than 20 years. He considers himself lucky since he has remained healthy, but says his drugs are a daily reminder he has the virus.
"I would love to say one day I'm HIV negative and to be able to come off of meds and not have to have that hanging over my head," he said.
That's why Johnson decided to enroll in a gene therapy study at the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers say they were able to successfully genetically modify the immune cells of 12 HIV positive patients to make the T-cells, a type of white blood cell, resist infection.
"That might be a step toward eventually making the immune system of the patient resistant to HIV," said Dr. Pablo Tebas of the Penn Center for AIDS Research.
In the lab, researchers mimicked a gene mutation in the patients' cells, removing a protein the HIV virus needs to infect cells. The altered cells were then put back into the patients. The therapy decreased the virus in some patients, including one who had no detectable levels of HIV.
About eight months ago, Johnson's doctors told him modified T-cells are still circulating in his body.
"If I could stop the virus form being within me, it would just be absolutely wonderful," he said.
Researchers say if they can make the immune system resistant to HIV, it could mean patients like Johnson would no longer need their medications.
Next, doctors plan to expand their research to a larger group of patients.
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