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May 28, 2014 

Groundbreaking HIV and Genomics Study at Jacobi Medical Center

Future Advancements Could Allow Patients to Control Virus Without Medication

(Bronx, New York) Researchers at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation’s (HHC) Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx have helped to develop a method to genetically modify T-cells within the body to make them more resistant to HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. The researchers believe that similar technology could be used in the future to target problematic genes and cells to reduce disease for a variety of other illnesses and infections as well.

The results of the study were recently published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine

Under the clinical leadership of David K. Stein, MD, Director of Adult HIV Research at Jacobi and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, five patients who have the HIV virus participated in the study at Jacobi.  Another seven patients with HIV participated at the University of Pennsylvania.

“T-cells” are a type of white blood cell that scans the body for cellular abnormalities and infections, and are an essential part of the body’s immune system. The HIV virus is known to target T-cells in the body, making AIDS patients susceptible to a large variety of diseases and infections that their bodies could have otherwise fought off through a normal immune reaction.

In the study, T-cells were removed from each patients’ blood and then modified with genome editing technology to remove a particular protein that the HIV virus utilizes to invade and destroy the T-cells.  Those T-cells were then inserted back into each patients’ bloodstream.  The modified T-cells showed an ability to travel to areas affected by HIV and the ability to resist the virus. Initial results suggest that this approach appears to be very well tolerated with minimal side effects.  

“The advances we have made in HIV research in the past 15 to 20 years have been nothing short of remarkable,” said Dr. Stein.  “This research project was another milestone in that effort, and the technique may be applicable to other diseases and infections besides HIV.  The method used here could potentially lead to HIV patients becoming less reliant on medication in the future, or even developing higher levels of resistance to the virus.”

The modification of T-cells was accomplished with proprietary zinc finger nuclease (ZFN)-based genome editing technology supplied by Sangamo BioSciences Inc.  The research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Jacobi Medical Center has an extensive history of pioneering HIV/AIDS research and treatments. The hospital has provided breakthrough services such as:

These efforts, as part of a citywide initiative have produced measurable results.  Just this year, the New York City Department of Health announced that AIDS is no longer among the top ten causes of death in New York City.  This is the first time the disease has fallen off this list since the epidemic began in 1983.


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