04 July 2013
Two men with HIV have been offAIDSdrugsforseveralmonthsafter receiving stem–cell transplants that appear to have cleared the virus from their bodies, researchers said on Wednesday.
Thepatients–whoweretreatedin Boston and had been on long–term drugtherapytocontroltheirHIV–received stem–cell transplants after developing lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Sincethetransplants,doctorshave been unable to find any evidence of HIV infection, Timothy Henrich of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told an International AIDS Society conference in Kuala Lumpur. While it is too early to say for sure that the virus has disappeared from their bodies altogether, one patient has now been off antiretroviral drug treatment for 15 weeks and the other for seven weeks.
Using stem–cell therapy is not seen as a viable option for widespread use, sinceitisextremelyexpensive,butthe latest cases could open new avenues for fighting the disease, which infects about 34 million people worldwide.
The latest cases resemble that of Timothy Ray Brown, known as “the Berlin patient”, who became the first person to be cured of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukaemia in 2007. There are, however, important differences.
While 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, the two Boston patients received cells without this mutation.
Scientific advances since HIV was first discovered more than 30 years agomeanthevirusisnolongeradeath sentence and the latest antiretroviral AIDS drugs can control the virus for decades. But many people still do not get therapy early enough, prompting the WHO to call for faster roll–out of medicines after patients test positive.
Indian generics companies are leading suppliers of HIV drugs to Africa and to many other poor countries.