Possible HIV medical breakthrough

LONDON — Two patients have been taken off their HIV drugs after bone-marrow transplants seemed to clear the virus from their bodies, doctors report.

One of the patients has spent nearly four months without taking medication with no sign of the virus returning.

The team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in the US, caution that it is far too soon to talk about a cure as the virus could return at any point.

The findings were presented at the International Aids Society Conference.

It is difficult to get rid of an HIV infection because it hides inside human DNA, forming untouchable “reservoirs” in body.

Anti-retroviral drugs keep the virus in check within the bloodstream — but when the drugs stop, the virus comes back.

The two men, who have not been identified, had lived with HIV for about 30 years.

They both developed a cancer, lymphoma, which required a bone-marrow transplant.

Bone marrow is where new blood cells are made and it is thought to be a major reservoir for HIV.

After the transplant, there was no detectable HIV in the blood for two years in one patient and four in the other.

It is far too early to call this a cure for HIV. And even if it was a cure, it wouldn’t be a very good one.

It is very expensive and often leads to “graft-v-host” disease. There is a 15-20 per cent mortality rate within the first few years after the transplant.

This occurs when new immune cells produced by the graft treat the rest of the body as foreign and attack it.

The two patients in this study have replaced their regimen of anti-retroviral drugs, with those to suppress the immune system.

The procedure was carried out in these patients only because they had cancer that needed to be treated.

The real value of this research for the majority of people with HIV will come from a deeper understanding of the virus and HIV reservoirs.

The pair came off their anti-retroviral drugs earlier this year.

One has gone 15 weeks, and the other seven, since stopping treatment, and no signs of the virus have been detected so far.

Dr Timothy Henrich told the BBC the results were exciting. But he added: “We have not demonstrated cure, we’re going to need longer follow-up.

“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].” (BBC)

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