Could a genetically selected bone marrow transplant have cured an American living in Berlin of AIDS? Dr. Gero Huetter of Berlin’s Charite Hospital says that 20 months later, his patient no longer shows signs of carrying the virus.
“Huetter’s patient was under treatment at Charite for both AIDS and leukemia, which developed unrelated to HIV.
As Huetter – who is a hematologist, not an HIV specialist – prepared to treat the patient’s leukemia with a bone marrow transplant, he recalled that some people carry a genetic mutation that seems to make them resistant to HIV infection. If the mutation, called Delta 32, is inherited from both parents, it prevents HIV from attaching itself to cells by blocking CCR5, a receptor that acts as a kind of gateway.
“I read it in 1996, coincidentally,” Huetter told reporters at the medical school. “I remembered it and thought it might work.”
It seems it may have. While HIV researchers warn that more extensive testing is required to prove that the virus no longer exists, Dr. Huetter is hopeful the case will be useful to researchers studying gene therapy treatments to cure AIDS. The procedure itself, if effective, could only be used in last-line defenses as it is both extremely costly and likely to be lethal, as it requires destroying all existing infected bone marrow through drugs and radiation.