On Wednesday, researchers reported that two people in the US, who were positive for HIV and had bone marrow transplants to treat cancer have quit taking their anti-retroviral medications and are still showing no signs of HIV.
The researchers, with Harvard University have stressed that it is still too early to determine that the two patients have been cured of the virus, but they have said that so far, it is encouraging that HIV hasn’t shown signs of returning even months after having stopped treatment.
Daniel Kuritzkes and Timothy Henrich, both with the Harvard Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, reported last year that samples of blood which were taken from both of the patients who also had blood cancers, showed no signs of HIV, even eight months after they underwent bone marrow transplants to fight their cancers. At that time, both of the patients were still taking anti-HIV medications.
According to Henrich on Wednesday at an international AIDS conference in Malaysia, since that time, both of the patients have quit their anti-retroviral medications; one stopped seven weeks ago, and the other stopped 15 weeks ago, and neither of them show signs of the virus. He says that they are doing quite well but that although the results are encouraging, they should not be an indicator that the pair has been cured of HIV.
He has also suggested that it is possible that the virus is hiding in organs in their bodies, such as the brain, liver or spleen, and it could come back at any time. The patients will need to be further tested, and in the near future, tissue, cells and plasma will be examined for up to a year in order to provide a better idea of the true effect of bone marrow transplants on those with HIV.
In 2009, Timothy Ray Brown, an American, had a stem cell transplant for the treatment of leukemia in 2007. Two years later, his German doctors reported that he was cured of HIV. In his case, doctors chose a donor that had the rare gene mutation that allows a sort of resistance to HIV. Since then, there have not been similar results with ordinary donor cells like those that were given to the two patients in Boston.
If the patients do experience a rebound, they will be put back on their medications.
As for the findings, Kevin Robert Frost, the chief executive for The Foundation of AIDS Research has issued a statement that says the findings help to offer essential new information that can change the way we currently think about gene therapy and HIV. Stem cell transplantation, he has said, isn’t a broad scale option for the treatment of HIV, because it is cost prohibitive and complicated, but the new findings can help to develop new treatments and possibly even cures for HIV.