Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed stem cells that can kill HIV in mice.

UCLA researchers announced that they have genetically engineered stem cells to kill HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in a study published April 12 in the journal PloS Pathogens.

“We believe that this study lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body,” lead investigator Scott G. Kitchen, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the UCLA AIDS Institute, said in a press release.

Working on the previous finding that “killer” T cells are able to destroy HIV-infected cells but do not exist in sufficient quantities to fight off infection, scientists cloned parts of the T cell and used this to genetically engineer human blood stem cells.

The engineered stem cells, implanted in mice, “developed into a large population of mature, multi-functional HIV-specific CD8 cells that could specifically target cells containing HIV proteins.”

Researchers also found that cells must be matched to an individual “in much the same way an organ is matched to a transplant patient.”

“We believe that this is the first step in developing a more aggressive approach in correcting the defects in the human T cell responses that allow HIV to persist in infected people,” Kitchen said.