A cancer research center looks for a cure for HIV infection
By Clay Holtzman, Hutchinson Center science writer
For many people who are new to the Hutchinson Center, myself included, it is surprising to learn about the history and depth of HIV/AIDS research that goes on here.
The Center has long been known for its continued contributions to cancer research, most notably by pioneering bone marrow and stem cell transplantation as a treatment against leukemia and other blood cancers.
But what we have learned about cancer has naturally led Center researchers to focus more attention on infectious diseases, which may be responsible for one-fifth of all cancers worldwide, and HIV/AIDS.
So today, we find that a potential treatment to cure HIV is based on what we have learned about treating cancer with our own cells.
Earlier this month, Center scientists Keith Jerome and Hans-Peter Kiem received a $20 million federal grant to explore a potential cure for HIV infection via a stem cell transplant.
The Center’s researchers will study whether it’s possible to take an HIV-infected patient’s own stem cells, genetically reengineer them, and then infuse them back to fight the disease.
“I think our grant has the unique feature that it now combines techniques used for cancer therapy, such as stem cell transplantation, with the treatment for HIV,” Kiem said. “I think it further emphasizes our role in HIV research.”
And we have quite a history in this area of research. The Center is home to one of the world’s largest HIV research units and it’s the headquarters for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, an international collaboration of researchers and educators who are searching for an effective and safe HIV vaccine.
The Center’s new president and director, Dr. Larry Corey, is an HIV expert and was head of the Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division.
“I would think the center has been a top notch HIV/AIDS place for at least the last 15 years since Larry joined us,” Kiem said.
With such an outstanding background, Kiem and Jerome are now focused on delivering human clinical trials in five years.
“We all realize that prevention (vaccines or otherwise), management and curative therapies are all really complementary and equally important approaches to the HIV pandemic,” Jerome said.
“I do think, though, that the concept of a ‘cure’ resonates especially strongly with many members of the public, and I hope this award can help highlight all of the Center’s efforts.”