Doctors today at the International AIDS Society conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia announced the case of two HIV-positive patients from Boston who show no trace of the virus after undergoing bone-marrow transplants. Though not considered a cure, AIDS experts are excited and encouraged by the findings.
While on long-term antiretroviral therapy for HIV, the two patients developed lymphoma and to treat the cancer, they underwent reduced intensity chemotherapy followed by stem-cell transplants. Since the transplants, they show no evidence of HIV infection, according to a press release from amfAR.
Last year, two men underwent transplants also apparently eliminating the HIV virus. The success of the Boston patients is similar to the case of Timothy Ray Brown, often referred to as the “first HIV cure.” Brown has been virus-free in the five years following a bone-marrow transplant from a patient with a rare HIV-resistant mutation. AIDS experts, however, are hesitant to call these recent cases cures. The New York Times reports:
The technique used on them involves severely weakening the immune system before a marrow transplant. It is so dangerous that it is unethical to perform it on anyone not already at risk of dying from cancer, especially because most people with HIV can live relatively normal lives by taking a daily antiretroviral cocktail….
One patient stopped taking antiretroviral drugs seven weeks ago. For the other, it has been 15 weeks. No virus or antibodies to the virus have been found in their blood or other tissues since.
Still, several AIDS specialists are excited by the progress of the two patients and consider this an important step in their ongoing search for an actual cure. “These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “While stem-cell transplantation is not a viable option for people with HIV on a broad scale because of its costs and complexity, these new cases could lead us to new approaches to treating, and ultimately even eradicating, HIV.”