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Mason researcher welcomes the latest development in the fight against HIV

March 13, 2019   /   by John Hollis

Yuntao Wu welcomed the latest development in the fight against HIV, but cautioned against expecting an immediate cure.

George Mason University’s Yuntao Wu, professor of molecular and microbiology within Mason’s School of Systems Biology and National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, lauded the recent news that a second infected HIV patient has been functionally cured, but cautioned against leaping to the conclusion that a permanent cure for the disease that causes AIDS is now in the immediate future. 

“The case may offer some insights regarding how the patient is cured,” Wu said of the news that a second patient has now been deemed HIV-free 12 years after the first such case. “It is also an encouragement for HIV researchers that an HIV cure is possible.” 

There are powerful drugs available to fight HIV infection. The patients in both of the two milestone cases, however, received bone-marrow transplants that were intended to treat cancer and not HIV. The T cells of both patients were removed and replaced with a new immune system that appears capable of blocking HIV replication in the new T cells. 

Often risky with harsh side effects that can last for years, bone-marrow transplants are not a viable option for most patients enduring HIV treatment, Wu said,  

“It is not practical for most patients to do bone-marrow transplantation, given that HIV is no longer a deadly disease,” Wu said. 

Wu continues to be at the forefront in the fight against HIV. He recently made news when he and his research team identified a T cell marker that could help lead to improved treatment for HIV and cancer patients. The research focuses on cofilin, a key protein that regulates cells to mobilize and fight against infection. In an HIV-infected patient, cofilin dysfunction is a key factor in helper T cell defects, according to Wu’s research. Helper T cells augment the body’s immune response by recognizing the presence of a foreign antigen and then helping the immune system mount a response. 

“Our monkey trial used a different approach that does not need bone-marrow transplantation,” Wu said. “It can be used for anyone. We just need to translate the technology into human trials in coming years.” 

Yuntao Wu can be reached at 703-993-4299 or ywu8@gmu.edu

For more information, contact John Hollis at 703-993-8781 or jhollis2@gmu.edu

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.