In what could be a significant development in AIDS therapy, two cancer patients who were also positive for HIV have been cured of any trace of virus in their blood after bone transplants. This was performed by researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
These two patients had lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. In order to treat the cancer, these patients were given bone marrow transplants along with chemotherapy, in which the new bone marrow cells from another individual are intended to eventually replace the cancerous immune cells. Since these patients were also HIV-positive, they had to continue their anti-retroviral drugs during and after the transplants to suppress the HIV in their bodies. Seventeen months after their transplants, these patients were found to have no traces of HIV genetic material in their blood samples.
Similarities with Previous HIV Cure
These cases are similar to, but not quite like the first case of bone marrow transplants curing AIDS. An American patient has been previously given bone marrow transplants from a donor who had a rare gene mutation that blocked HIV from entering cells. Because of this mutation, all traces of HIV disappeared from his body and he could be taken off antiretroviral drugs. The new patients were not given transplants with this mutation, meaning that they have to stay on the antiretroviral drugs until it is absolutely certain that there is no HIV in their body. This is why it is such big news that normal bone marrow transplants combines with antiretroviral therapy to seemingly confer resistance to the virus.
Is this Viable?
However, many researchers have pointed out that the virus could simply be ‘hiding’ in some tissues of these patients, like lymph nodes. “We’re being very carful to refer to our patients as not being functionally cured,” said study author Daniel Kuritzkes. They can only be completely cured when they can stop taking the anti-HIV drugs. Moreover, bone marrow transplants are highly invasive and expensive procedures. A huge amount of research is trying to get the HIV-resistant gene mutation into patients without the huge costs of bone transplants.
“We’re not there in terms of a broadly applicable approach, but every step really gets people excited,” said Dr. Steven Deeks, a HIV researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as we thought.”
You can find more information about this research here.