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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 27
Two more men cured of HIV - Stem-cell transplants succeed in removing all traces of virus
Section One
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Two more men cured of HIV - Stem-cell transplants succeed in removing all traces of virus

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Doctors in Boston are reporting that two men have been cured of their HIV infections after receiving stem-cell transplants for unrelated cancers. The cures apparently replicate that of Timothy Ray Brown, the 'Berlin Patient,' who was cured after a similar procedure in 2007.

Speaking to the International AIDS Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dr. Timothy Henrich of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that the two patients are no longer taking HIV medications.

One patient has been off his meds for 15 weeks, and the other for seven weeks, Henrich said. The two are said to have lived with HIV for some 30 years.

DOCTORS ARE CAUTIOUS
'We have not demonstrated cure - we're going to need longer follow-up,' Henrich told BBC News.

'What we can say is if the virus does stay away for a year or even two years after we stopped the treatment, that the chances of the virus rebounding are going to be extremely low. It's much too early at this point to use the C-word [cure].'

Henrich cautioned that the virus could be still be hiding inside brain tissue or the gastrointestinal tract.

'If [the] virus does return, it would suggest that these other sites are an important reservoir of infectious virus and new approaches to measuring the reservoir at relevant sites will be needed to guide the development of HIV curative strategies,' he said.

The stem cells the two received were apparently ordinary and did not have the genetic resistance to HIV that the cells used on Brown had. Brown's doctor used stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation, known as CCR5 delta 32, which renders people virtually resistant to HIV, but the two Boston patients received cells without this mutation.

'Dr. Henrich is charting new territory in HIV eradication research,' Kevin Robert Frost, chief executive officer of the Foundation for AIDS Research, which funded the study, said in a statement.

HIGH-RISK OPERATION
Dr. Michael Brady, the medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, a British nonprofit that funds HIV/AIDS research, said the reported results suggest avenues for further research rather than a feasible method to cure HIV.

'It is too early to know whether HIV has been eradicated from these men's bodies or whether it might return,' Brady said. 'However, the case suggests that what happened to Timothy Brown, the Berlin Patient, was perhaps not a one-off.

'A bone marrow transplant is a complex and expensive procedure, which comes with significant risks. For most people with HIV, it would be more dangerous to undergo a transplant than to continue managing the virus with daily medication.

'So while this is by no means a workable cure, it does give researchers another signpost in the direction of one.'

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