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Stem-cell transplants wipe out HIV, say scientists

Jul 04, 2013

Researchers have reported the case of Two HIV positive men who now show no signs of the HIV virus following Stem-Cell Transplants

Two men, both carrying the HIV virus and being treated for cancer, are reported to have been free of any traces of the AIDS-causing virus following stem-cell transplants they received as part of the regimen to treat their cancer.

Scientists presenting these cases at the ongoing International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Kuala Lumpur opine that this suggests the men may have been cured of the AIDS-causing infection. The findings were presented at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The two patients, who underwent treatment at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, stopped HIV treatment after the transplants.

The findings have raised hope for making HIV/AIDS history. However, it is too soon to draw any definitive long-term conclusions, researchers caution.

In one patient there was no sign of the virus 15 weeks after stopping treatment, while the other has gone seven weeks without HIV rebounding, Dr. Timothy Henrich of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston informed the gathering at the Kuala Lumpur conference.

According to Timothy Henrich, the patients had been on long-term antiretroviral therapy for HIV when they developed lymphoma. To treat the cancer, the patients underwent reduced intensity chemotherapy followed by stem-cell transplants. Since the transplants, Dr. Henrich has been unable to find any evidence of HIV infection.

The research was funded by a grant through the amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE) after Henrich presented preliminary findings on these patients at the International AIDS Conference last July. Clinical studies conducted as part of the research involved withdrawing the patients’ antiretroviral therapy and performing several sophisticated assays looking for signs of viral rebound in blood and other tissues.

“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.”

Scientists would like to exercise caution, though, as it is also unclear how long viral rebound might take in a patient whose viral reservoirs have been dramatically depleted, but not eradicated.

Dr.Robert Siciliano of Johns Hopkins University feels it may take over a year.

While previously, a patient in a study by the National Institutes of Health had gone 50 days after treatment withdrawal without viral rebound, Dr. Henrich’s patients are at or beyond this threshold, and more definitive answers will emerge as these patients continue to be closely monitored.

Dr. Henrich is charting new territory in HIV eradication research,” said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston. “Whatever the outcome, we will have learned more about what it will take to cure HIV. We believe amfAR's continued investments in HIV cure-based research are beginning to show real results and will ultimately lead us to a cure in our lifetime.”

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