Two men with HIV have been off Aids drugs for several months
after receiving stem-cell transplants for cancer that appear to have cleared
the virus from their bodies, researchers reported on Wednesday.
Both patients, who were treated in Boston and had been on
long-term drug therapy to control their HIV, received stem-cell transplants
after developing lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Since the transplants,
doctors have 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.
Where it all began
Last July Henrich first reported that the two men had
undetectable levels of HIV in their blood after their stem-cell treatment, but
at that time they were still taking medicines to suppress HIV. Using stem-cell
therapy is not seen as a viable option for widespread use, since it is
extremely expensive, but the 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 leukemia 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."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.
HIV no longer a death
Scientific advances since HIV was first discovered more than
30 years ago mean the virus is no longer a death 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 World Health Organization
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. Major Western HIV drugmakers
include Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and ViiV Healthcare, which is
majority-owned by GlaxoSmithKline.