A cure for HIV may be on the way, and it involves a type of technology science has long asserted would be key in many medical therapies: stem cells. Controversial due to religious opposition and early acquisition from aborted fetuses, these incredibly capable cells can easily adapt (or be adapted) to numerous uses in the body. Now that science has the ability to harvest them from other sources (including skin) and produce them in the lab, stem cells are likely to begin realizing their potential in medicine — and HIV will be one of the diseases they may eradicate.

According to Futurity, the FDA has approved human trials for the new stem cell therapy, which involves modifying the cells with an HIV-resistant gene. In tests, when these modified stem cells were injected into mice, the animals developed immune systems able to resist HIV.

The treatment mirrors that of the man known as ‘the Berlin patient,’ Timothy Brown, who underwent stem cell transplants in 2007 and 2008, when other treatments began to fail him. According to Defeat HIV, the stem cells in his case were not lab-modified, though, but transplanted from a donor who carried a gene mutation making him immune to HIV. It was Brown’s treatment that inspired this research with transplanting HIV-resistant stem cells into mice.

Brown is considered ‘functionally cured,’ meaning that HIV may still be present in his body (though it isn’t detected in blood), but he shows no symptoms and no longer needs treatment. The same type of functional cure has been seen in the mice who received transplants of lab-manipulated cells.

In the upcoming trials on human patients, the cells to be modified will be taken from the patient’s own body, in order to minimize the risk of the body rejecting the cells after they are modified.

The controversy surrounding stem cells was a revived topic this year, as the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS went viral. As the public realized that stem cell therapy was one of the potential cures being researched for ALS, some feared to participate. However, it should be understood that this type of therapy no longer has the once-touted connection with abortion, and that it may soon eradicate many of the diseases we’ve long failed to overcome, including Alzheimer’s disease.

If stem cell therapies are successful, sufferers of Alzheimer’s, ALS, HIV, and other diseases may, in fact, finally see a cure.

[photo credit: ksalonsweetly]