Two Harvard-affiliated researchers, Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes, told the 7th International AIDS Society Conference in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, yesterday that two bone-marrow transplant patients who stopped anti-retroviral therapy two to four months ago still show no detectable sign of the HIV virus.
This follows their announcement last year that blood samples taken from the men, who each had blood cancer and were still on anti-HIV drugs at the time, showed no traces of the HIV virus eight months after the bone marrow transplants for the cancer.
“They are doing very well,” said Henrich, an Infectious Disease/Internal Medicine physician and researcher at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “While these results are exciting, they do not yet indicate that the men have been cured. [The virus could return if remnants exist in other organs like liver, spleen, or brain.] Only time will tell.”
The physicians will monitor the men’s cells, plasma, and tissue for at least a year in order to chronicle the full impact of the transplant on persistence of the deadly AIDS precursor. Henrich said that if the HIV returns or the patients experience a viral rebound, the physicians will resume antiviral treatment. Such an occurrence would reveal other sites as important reservoirs of the virus and might lead the way to developing a cure.
Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of The Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) since 2007, and an advisor to the Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS, offered a statement: “These findings clearly provide important new information that might well alter the current thinking about HIV and gene therapy.”
Related cases. In 2006, Gero Huetter, a German hematologist at the University Medicine Berlin, injected stem cells harvested from a donor who had a genetic immunity to HIV into Timothy Brown, an American patient with acute myeloid leukemia. Destroying all the immune cells of a person HIV and replacing them with new HIV-immune cells eradicated all traces of Brown’s AIDS-producing virus.
In March of this year, for the first time physicians cured a baby of an HIV infection. Until recently, the medical community believed that a child born with HIV might have to take antiretroviral drugs for life. Johns Hopkins virologist Deborah Persaud treated the Mississippi child aggressively with antiretroviral drugs, an unorthodox approach, starting about a day after birth.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert covers environmental, health, and energy policy and issues. Involved in the health field since the late 1980s, she has followed the creation and progress of medical legislation over the past two decades. Her recent top health stories include reports on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the morning-after pill, and the A(H7N9) China avian flu and MERS outbreaks.
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