Stemming the Tide of HIV

I’m becoming rather attached to these 6pm news-style pun titles.

I don’t want to bore you with details I clearly understand very well and much better than you do, but here is the abstract of this research article. These clever folk at UCLA have done-it-in-mice (which is a verb in my mind) of engineering stem cells into T-cells that target and destroy HIV-infected cells.

There is a desperate need for effective therapies to fight chronic viral infections. The immune response is normally fastidious at controlling the majority of viral infections and a therapeutic strategy aimed at reestablishing immune control represents a potentially powerful approach towards treating persistent viral infections. We examined the potential of genetically programming human hematopoietic stem cells to generate mature CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes that express a molecularly cloned, “transgenic” human anti-HIV T cell receptor (TCR). Anti-HIV TCR transduction of human hematopoietic stem cells directed the maturation of a large population of polyfunctional, HIV-specific CD8+ cells capable of recognizing and killing viral antigen-presenting cells. Thus, through this proof-of-concept we propose that genetic engineering of human hematopoietic stem cells will allow the tailoring of effector T cell responses to fight HIV infection or other diseases that are characterized by the loss of immune control.

Blah blah blah. Is it a cure for HIV? My expert opinion is: maybe! Lucky the Foofighters ditched their support for bizarre HIV-AIDS-link-denying organisation Alive & Well. Could have been embarrassing.

Who dares to love forever?

Ray Kurzweil is a nutter who probably drinks his own urine, but in a recent interview with Computerworld he talks about the possibility of human immortality in 30 to 40 years. Health- and youth-maintaining nanobots in the blood, the ability to upload total human personality and memory functionality to a non-biological substrate – the stuff of science fiction is getting closer, faster.

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An interesting find by Science Blogs. Basically, a bunch of robots were programmed to work together in finding a resource and avoiding a “poison”. They would wander around looking for the resource, and when they found it, they were initially programmed to turn on their light to indicate to other robots that the resource was over there. Then they’d gather around it.

The programming was a little bit variable, though, and would change as time went on. Every so often the most successful resource-getting poison-avoiding robots were “mated”, making that behaviour selected for. While the robots got more successful by working together, they began to get crowded out of the resource when they let other robots know where it was.

So 60% of them learned to lie. They’d leave their light off when they found the resource, hoarding it for themselves. That was the randomly generated behaviour that was selected for.

It would be interesting, however, to see the same experiment done on a larger scale, with competing groups of robots, rather than competing individuals, where the groups were rated collectively and selected for on that basis. I suspect cooperative behaviour would trump the liars.