HIV is a virus that targets and slowly weakens the immune system by infecting a certain type of white blood cell that is essential to the body's ability to fight infections and diseases. As an HIV infection progresses, the body becomes increasingly susceptible to infections and cancers--especially cancers of the immune system called lymphomas. AIDS is the last of several stages of HIV infection, and has many severe health problems associated with it.
In the last few years, new drug therapies and treatments have allowed HIV patients to live longer, healthier lives--but there is currently no cure or vaccine for the disease.
Human and Social Costs
About 900,000 Americans are currently infected with HIV. California has 128,064 HIV cases, second only to New York. In some parts of the world, the virus has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 40 million people are infected worldwide. In 2003, AIDS killed 3 million worldwide, including 500,000 children.
Despite progress in suppressing HIV infection in the US, current drug treatment costs are very high - about $14,000 per year for each patient. The average cost of caring for an individual in the advanced stages of AIDS is $34,000 annually.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
The HIV virus damages or kills a variety of cells in the body and stem cells provide a promising new way to repair and replace those damaged cells.
For example, stem cells are already being used to treat AIDS-related lymphoma. Until a few years ago, doctors did not treat this cancer with standard chemotherapy because it was believed that patients would be too weak to survive the treatment. (Chemotherapy treatments destroy cancer cells, but also kill white blood cells already weakened by HIV.) Recently developed stem cell technologies now enable physicians to preserve a small collection of white blood cell-producing stem cells outside of the patient's body during chemotherapy. Once the cancer treatment is complete, bone marrow stem cells are returned so that the patient's immune system can be restored, essentially helping patients survive their therapy.
Researchers at UCLA, City of Hope and elsewhere have also successfully engrafted stem cells containing a therapeutic anti-HIV gene into the bone marrow of HIV-infected patients. This breakthrough could lead to greatly improved therapies for the treatment of AIDS and the prevention of HIV infections.
That's why many people with HIV/AIDS, their families and groups like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation strongly support stem cell research - and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
PARTIAL LIST OF SOURCES:
The Lasker Foundation
"New AIDS Data Explain T-cell Puzzle." University of California, San Francisco.
"Stem Cells Could Help Rebuild Immune System: Study>"
"Statistics and Trends in HIV Infection and AIDS."
"Delivering Anti-HIV Genes into HIV-Infected Patients." City of Hope.
"Cancer, AIDS hope from stem cell study." CNN News.
"New Experimental Treatment for HIV-related Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center." UCLA News- http://www.cancer.mednet.ucla.edu/newsmedia/news/pr080598.html