Bone-marrow transplants leave men ‘HIV-free’
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 03 July 2013
Two men infected with HIV for many years have been able to stop taking anti-viral drugs following bone-marrow transplants which left them without any detectable Aids virus in their bodies, scientists have announced.
A range of highly sensitive tests have failed to detect HIV in either man, suggesting the transplanted immune systems of the patients may have been able to clear the viral “reservoir” of HIV from their bodies. The findings point to a possible “functional” cure for Aids based on the eradication of HIV from a patient’s cells. However, the scientists emphasised that it is still too early to say whether the patients have been truly cured of HIV as the virus may still return.
A number of previous studies have suggested it may be possible to eradicate HIV completely from a patient’s body based on transfusions of bone marrow stem cells, which replace the white blood cells that the Aids virus attacks. Until recently, scientists thought it would not be possible to cure someone of HIV as the virus integrates its genetic material into the DNA of the patient, where it can lie dormant for many years.
Both patients were taking anti-retroviral drugs prior to and during the period when they underwent the bone-marrow transplants to treat cancer but this was withdrawn when doctors realised that their HIV had fallen to undetectable levels. “So far to date, we cannot detect virus in peripheral blood, we cannot detect virus integrated into the cells of the patients,” said Dr Timothy Henrich, of the Brigham and Women’s Cancer Centre in Boston, who led the study released at the International Aids Society conference in Malaysia.
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