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Gene v. Drug Therapy
Nov 30, 2008

Hello Doctor.

Can you explain to me the difference between HIV drug and gene therapies? Which is more effective for those living with HIV? And are they both available in the U.S.?

Response from Dr. McGowan

Gene therapies refer to treatments that insert new genes or alter genes in the CD4 cells that would block or interrupt the way HIV can copy itself if that CD4 cell becomes infected. These new genes are usually introduced by putting them into a special virus that will infect the CD4 cell and release the new gene into the cell. This process would, theoretically, create a group of CD4 cells in the body that would be resistant to HIV. Right now gene therapies are not approved for use outside of clinical trials. Since this is a new type of treatment that effects cells in our bodies (the CD4 cells usually) it is very important to be sure that this process will be safe as well as effective. Altering genes or adding new genes could have effects that might not show up for many years (such as cancers) or cause an imbalance in how the CD4 cells function. It is an exciting possibility that might help reduce the need for medications in the future.

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