California allows stem cell research, but is there a worry about the controversial use of embryonic stem cells?
We don’t believe so because we’re predominantly using cells that already matured into a blood-forming stem cell unit, so they’re not necessarily embryos or anything of that nature. Currently, what we’re doing is utilizing the same type of approach that’s utilized in bone marrow transplantation and tissue transplantation.

Would all the work you’ve done not been possible when Bush-era restrictions on stem cell research were in place?
Due to its use of blood-forming stem cells, it wouldn’t be so much hindered. But overall, the kind of atmosphere is a lot more conducive to facilitating this type of research. The study was funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine; the Proposition 71 money. Due to the passage of Proposition 71, the environment in California has been highly conducive to the success of this work.

What’s the response been from the medical community?
The response has been very positive; [the findings have] a lot of potential to allow the development of therapeutics, not just for HIV but for other viruses that cause chronic infections in humans — like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes viruses, and papillomaviruses — that the human immune system is in itself incapable of clearing. In addition it can be expanded to work involving cancer and tumors. But the scientific community in general has met the [research results] with a high degree of interest. This is really the first time this type of approach and this type of technology has been utilized in human tissue.

How hopeful are you that this will lead to a vaccine?
Very hopeful.

Tags: Health