The stem cells the man received were somewhat special though: they came from a matching donor with a relatively rare genetic mutation known as CCR5-delta 32. KIRO Radio's Mike Lewis spoke with Fred Hutchison HIV researcher Dr. Josh Schiffer, who discussed his reaction to hearing the news and what this breakthrough means in the fight against HIV.
AIDS researchers have raised false hope before.
The dangers of HIV infection, and the resulting destruction of the immune system, are well known. The first was the case of the Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown, who received similar treatment for cancer in 2007. Journals refused to publish a paper, The New York Times played the story deep inside the paper, and at a major meeting, the researcher, Hero Hutter, was relegated to a mere poster session. Deeks told me that at the time the claim was believable because the biology all made sense.
The transplant involves killing nearly all the immune cells and replacing them with donor cells, and is so risky it can only be carried out on people with cancer. Much can be learned from this research, and it is clear that modifying the outside coating of T4 cells so that they lack the receptors, which the HIV virus uses to attach to and then enter the CD4 cells, is an important area for future cure research.
On Monday, doctors revealed a second patient, called the "London patient", had been off his antiviral medications for 18 months following his bone marrow transplant cancer treatment and had no signs of HIV.
Another patient is hailed as HIV-free after a bone marrow transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation.
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These avenues, if they succeed, might not completely eradicate the virus from the body, but there's hope they might allow the patients to stay healthy without the now used daily drug regimen, which is both expensive, and for some, onerous. Numerous therapies now in use target the virus's ability to replicate itself, allowing patients to manage the condition effectively for years. They can generate a constant, low-level immune response that increases the risk of heart disease and cancer, and can accelerate aging. The drugs can also have serious negative side effects. Pills taken daily can keep HIV levels so low the virus is not transmittable to sex partners, but not everyone takes them as prescribed. "They are tethered to these drugs that don't make them feel sick but don't make them feel normal either", he said.
Gupta described his patient as "functionally cured" and "in remission".
"Whilst this type of treatment is clearly not practical for millions of people around the world living with HIV, reports such as this may help in the ultimate development of a cure", said Andrew Freedman, a reader in infectious diseases at Cardiff University in Wales. Sometimes the transplant failed to take, or sometimes the cancer was too advanced.
The transplant, in other words, changed the key on the lock, and the virus could no longer get in.
The Vietnam Authority for HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC) under the Ministry of Health and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) on Friday hosted four simultaneous events across the country in Hanoi, Nghe An, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hai Phong to celebrate the first patients receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs covered by social health insurance (SHI).